Medhealth Review

With societies unable to afford a fast-aging population, we all need to do care differently

Low birth rates and a rapidly-aging population mean we are facing a demographic time bomb on a global scale. Last year in the UK, 900,000 people turned 50 but only 700,000 births were recorded – creating a 23% ‘birthgap’. In the US, the birthgap is around 15%, and it is estimated that around 8 to 10 thousand people hit retirement age every day. 

As the world’s population continues to age at pace, we find ourselves grappling with an unprecedented care crisis. Demand for care already far outstrips supply, and societal needs for social care are only set to intensify. We must urgently rethink how we provide and access social care if we are to ensure that our most vulnerable populations have access to the care they need, when they need it. 

The need for digitization

We’re all aware that technologies – including AI – are transforming many areas of our lives. For example, in healthcare we are seeing these technologies increase health systems’ capacity and stretch budgets while improving patient outcomes. In social care, it is becoming evident that taking a tech-led approach will be just as critical.  

Traditionally the sector has been slow to embrace digitization, due to both the complexity and fragmentation of the industry. However, change is afoot. We are seeing everything from the take-up of wearable devices to enable more effective at-home care, through to online portals where care needs can be managed digitally from a single location. Some of the most pressing care challenges are being solved through technology, but we need to see a genuine shift in behaviors from manual processes to digital ways of working if these technologies are to translate into genuine change.

Addressing the carer shortfall

Let’s take the lack of experienced, vetted carers as an example of how technologies could help. In the US, there has been a 11.6% drop in home care workers for every 100 people requiring care, demonstrating the extent to which the care requirement is far out-pacing supply. A major contributor to the carer shortfall is low pay: despite working long, unsociable hours, and doing challenging – and often highly specialized – work, carers are chronically underpaid. This makes the role less appealing to potential new recruits, and unsustainable for experienced carers who can find themselves forced to leave the profession as they struggle to make ends meet. 

Technology is starting to shift the needle. Digital platforms are significantly lowering the administrative burden of care by offering up simpler, more efficient ways to arrange care. This is enabling care homes to reduce overheads, which in turn means that carers can command higher wages.  With some platforms, carers can earn hourly rates that are 60% higher on average.

Opening up better access to care 

The difficulty finding the right carer is compounded by the dominance of slow, manual recruitment processes that can take days or even weeks. Commonplace consumer technologies that make it simple to – for example – research, compare and book a holiday, have not yet been fully embraced by the care sector. There are however new technologies that allow care home businesses and care agencies to post a job advert for free and match it to experienced, vetted applicants in real-time. These platforms are not only speeding up access to care – making care available in hours or even minutes – but also giving organizations genuine choice and control over who they hire.

Some of the more sophisticated recruitment platforms are also using AI as a means to improve safeguarding for both carers and care businesses. For example, some tools include in-app video call features, which allows businesses to directly speak to carers, safely and securely, through the platform. These tools can also transcribe the calls and flag up any content that may be inappropriate. They can also highlight a safeguarding issue when someone posts a job or care requirement, which helps to safeguard the carer.  

The need for fundamental change

With a growing aging population also comes a rise in prevalence of illness and chronic diseases. When you also factor in the shift away from treatment to early interventions,  it’s clear that the need for both healthcare and social care systems to switch to digital models has never been more important. 

Yet our current care system is slow, outdated and not fit for purpose. Digital tools can enable businesses and consumers to source carers at speed and within tight budgets, while also making fairer carer salaries possible. These exciting technologies are now proven and are widely available, but we have to embrace them whole-heartedly if our sector is to truly change.

By Patrick Wallace, co-founder at Curam

Curam is the UK’s largest care worker marketplace and online social care platform, with offices across the UK,  Ireland and India. It is transforming access to care by combining its unique AI-driven matching platform with its community of over 8,000 carers. 

Since it was founded in 2018 by former university friends Patrick Wallace, Jody O’Neill and Ben Weatherall, its carers have provided over 3 million hours of care to 4,500 people. It also works with local authorities and leading care providers throughout the UK.

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