As social care services embark on massive digitisation, now is the time to embrace standards and interoperability to join up care, says Claire Sutton from the Professional Record Standards Body and the Royal College of Nursing.

Helping medically fit people leave hospital is the right thing to do for individuals, the NHS and social care services. With demand for health and care services at record levels this winter, the announcement in January of a two year plan to recover urgent and emergency care services, reduce waiting times and improve people’s experience of care could not have been more welcome.

The focus should increasingly be on keeping people well in the community, helping them to manage their care at home and intervening early so that care can be provided in an individual’s preferred place of care.

This requires joined up working between health and social care professionals, enabled by technology. Digital transformation plays a fundamental part in creating an integrated system that people can depend upon when they need it most.

However, digitising social care remains challenging for many care providers. Recently the British Journal of General Practice cited lack of access to records as a major barrier to successfully integrating services. In 2021, just one in five social care organisations considered themselves digitally mature, according to a report by Digital Social Care and Skills for Care and a recent publication from Ipsos Mori, found that less than half, 40%, of the adult social care workforce feel confident in using digital technologies. And yet, by March 2024 the government expects 80% of Care Quality Commission registered adult social care providers to use digital care records.

Lack of access to records

At present, records do not always accompany individuals when people transfer from hospital to the community, and care can break down, resulting in frequent re-admission to hospital. Lack of access to GP records, investigations, test results, and medications affects individuals’ experiences of care, puts people’s safety at risk and wastes care staff’s precious time. Staff should have the information they need at discharge.

Access to a discharge summary, using PRSB’s eDischarge summary, would ensure consistent, unambiguous information is shared between teams; this would drive up the safety and quality of care people experience, and save professionals’ time. Similarly, PRSB’s standard for digital care plans can join up care, avoiding the fragmentation, confusion, repetition and delay that people cite as common occurrences.

Knowing what matters most to people can make all the difference to the quality of care they experience. Using PRSB’s ‘About Me’ standard allows services to consistently record this information and share it. Andrew Coles of Person Centred Software described the benefits of using the About Me standard clearly: ‘Through our customers in nursing homes and residential care settings, we soon discovered how important individualised About Me information is in allowing frontline staff to provide high-quality care.

“By seamlessly and digitally transferring key details, the person doesn’t have to repeat their preferences and information at every new service they encounter. One particular care home told us that when a resident was transferred to hospital, the hospital rang to tell them they’d received the most comprehensive patient information they’d ever seen.”

Enable preventive care

Standardised social care records can facilitate audit and analysis to improve services and enable more predictive and preventive care. By unlocking the insights that social care professionals have about people in their care, care services could help people live well and independently for longer in the community, identify concerns before they become emergencies, and reduce hospital admissions and long hospital stays.

As social care services are set to massively digitise over the next year, now is the time to embrace standards and interoperability and join up care. The PRSB’s Standards Partnership Scheme can help the care sector - find out more.

Claire Sutton

Claire Sutton is transformational lead for the independent health and social care sector at the Royal College of Nursing, a PRSB non-executive director and member of the Faculty of Clinical Informatics.