To put it very simply, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is when a machine can use data to learn and make decisions for itself without the need for a person to be involved in the decision making. AI is used in technologies as varied as spellcheck and self-driving cars. Branches of AI include image recognition, Natural Language Processing and predictive analytics and it is an area which is rapidly growing in both health and social care.
AI can often be seen to be quite abstract and difficult to understand; however, it has the potential to have an incredible impact on how care is provided. It is already being used within some care settings to support early detection of illnesses, to alert people about early signs of deterioration and to support carers with proactive interventions. While AI is still relatively rare in care homes and home care, in future years it is likely to be seen as another useful tool which care workers and managers can use to provide high-quality care. In a 2019 poll, carehome.co.uk found that just over half of the care home owners, managers, and staff thought that care homes should use AI to help care for residents.
Similarly, the use of data on this scale is likely to be increasingly used to support system level planning across both health and social care. Future Care Capital and the Health Foundation have recently come together to create a community of practice for social care analytics which shows how rapidly this area is developing.
But how is AI being used in practice in social care now? There are several digital care record/electronic care planning companies which have been building AI into their software to support carers with providing more proactive care and support. One such company is PredicAire, a comprehensive care management solution which uses AI in a variety of ways. For the care home using PredicAire, all their care plans and records are now digital. This means that the AI can analyse the data in the background and can spot slight changes in someone’s observations and behaviour which could be early indicators of deterioration or illness. It can be very difficult to spot these signs with paper care records, because changes can be so small. Similarly, when you see someone every day, it can be difficult to spot small changes which could be indicators of deterioration over time. The software works as an early warning system to alert the care worker of these changes.
Moving beyond care planning and records, PredicAire also supports other functions of care provision which affect residents’ health and wellbeing, such as nutrition, activities, rostering, and maintenance.
AI is also being used for technologies which focus on very specific problems. PainChek uses AI to analyse micro expressions which are too small to be seen by the human eye. For people with dementia who might struggle to verbalise that their pain level, PainChek’s AI can also be used to spot indicators of pain. Another example is Feebris, who use digital stethoscopes, blood pressure cuffs and pulse oximeters. Carers take observations and the AI alerts for signs of deterioration which is available to the carer as a summary. This is then used by a GP remotely to assist with remote decision making about an individual’s care.
AI is also being used to address common workforce challenges in the sector. NDGAI collaborated with the University of Nottingham to develop OptifAI. This algoritm can be used to automate scheduling in domiciliary care to match carers to clients based on their needs. The Tribe Project uses AI to map areas where community support or care may be lacking and can be used to understand and identify emerging social care need in rural communities. This allows councils and communities to understand what needs to be done to address unmet need both now and in the future.
AI might seem futuristic to some, but the reality is that it is already being used in social care. There are just a few examples in this article, but there are many more companies using AI now and I expect that we’ll see much more of it in the future.
Katie Thorn, Digital Engagement Manager, at the Registered Nursing Home Association (RNHA) and Project Manager of Digital Social Care