Digital Transformation in Social Care: Initial scoping of the Evidence

Project Details


Over recent years, particularly around the COVID-19 pandemic, digital transformation and applications have produced benefits for our wider society, for example how we interact with businesses and the NHS. Use of ‘e-rostering’, for example for nursing, has increased, offering potential efficiency gains. Risk prediction analytics using available data, has profiled groups likely to benefit from the COVID-19 vaccination programme and digital applications in a social care setting, care homes, but largely from an NHS perspective, have considered benefits to residents and staff in better management of medications.
Potentially similar use and benefits of digital transformation could accrue for the social care sector specifically, but the range of organisations involved, resource constraints, and workforce knowledge and capacity make this challenging. For social care, digital transformation appears to be lagging behind that in the NHS. Only 50% (as at August 2022) of social care providers use digital applications or are digitally ‘literate’; for local authority Adult Social Care data analytics (as one part of the digital transformation agenda), routinely available data is often not at a person (user)-level and, some notable evaluations notwithstanding, has not been used to its fullest potential. Unlike some business, during and after COVID restrictions, local authority Adult Social Care has, for instance, not made effective use of digital applications at their ‘front door’, potentially enabling easier access to contact, assessments and reviews by service users. The Adult Social Care Reform White Paper has digital transformation at its heart, with resource (from the Transformation Directorate, formerly NHSX) to stimulate greater adoption of digital technology across social care, with potential to support independent living for service users and improve quality of care and so quality of life.

However, there are discernible evidence gaps in several areas, and, in fact, there are few systematic studies of the potential effectiveness, efficiency, usability or acceptability of digital transformation in this sector and no systematic reviews for the social care sector specifically. There is scoping of the field ongoing, for example that of the digitalisation of older people’s care for which follow on work concentrates on digitisation of GP services, and a review of technology in social care, from a policy perspective, highlighting factors affecting the development and implementation of care technologies. However, there appears to be no scoping of the whole digital transformation field specifically in social care, outlining where particular applications might fit into an overall framework for transforming the sector through digital and data analytic applications. This project intends to take initial steps in building the evidence base for this.

Aims and objectives
This scoping study is intended as an initial step towards a full systematic review (Overview of Reviews/Review of Reviews) of digital transformation and its potential benefits in social care, which could be undertaken with subsequent future research funding. That fuller systematic review will place existing evidence within a conceptual framework, identifying the range of ‘cases’ of transformation; in other words, examples, or applications of digital technologies within the social care sector and appraise the evidence in relation to them.
This definition helps in demarcation of the territory by outlining the potential benefits of transformation to social care at different levels: local authority organisations and others, the network of providers and players in the social care market, and the whole social care sector, including users and carers. It also allows transformation to be seen in terms of its constituent parts and gives attention to differentiating DT from its related terms, to set up a clear research agenda (Figure 1). Such research could evaluate effectiveness, efficiency, stakeholder capability and acceptability.

The study will:

•Develop search terms, according to the broad definitions of digital technologies described in an existing conceptual framework. It will be important to make the search terms social care specific within the UK context to avoid retrieval of papers and outputs on purely health-related applications.
•Develop inclusion and exclusion criteria for searching, in consultation with stakeholders.
•Systematically search literature databases for examples of evaluations of these technologies specifically from social care.
•Create a database under headings representing the broad definitions above, of studies characterising each of these use cases.
•Write a short report as an output, describing studies under each of these headings, to scope the landscape in terms of the breadth of existing published studies in this area.

Knowledge mobilisation
We have developed a partnership with evidence-user partners in the NHS Transformation Directorate (formerly NHSX), with responsibility for social care digital transformation. The Directorate social care team were responsible for publication of the Adult Social Care Reform White Paper, People at the Heart of Care and are encouraging all social care organisations to adopt and accelerate the learning from digital tools and technology, including providing funding. This partnership aims to share research evidence and outputs to assist The Directorate in their work going forwards.

The project is funded by the NIHR School for Social Care Research 
Effective start/end date1/01/2431/03/24


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