Earlier this summer, the Local Government Association announced that 16 local authorities were to be awarded funding, as part of its Local Investment Programme (LIP) for projects which use digital technology to transform and improve social care.
Hampshire CC, working with its technology enabled care partner, PA Consulting Group, is one of those receiving support for its project to test the use of Amazon Echo in social care. The objective of this pilot is to explore how the technology can help support 50 people to live independently in their own homes for longer and to reduce social isolation.
The partnership has already successfully deployed a range of technology in mainstream care packages over the last four years. Earlier this year it piloted tablet and video conferencing technology with older people to test these technologies’ effectiveness in helping people better connect with family, friends and their local communities. Some 65% of those participating in this project said they now have more contact with friends and family because of the technology, with 80% recommending the technologies to others.
The Amazon project in the LIP programme will build on this work and push the boundaries of how technology can help even further in social care. The new technology will be trialled with 50 adult social care clients, working directly with Amazon to ensure the project benefits from its expertise.
The first phase will ensure that the Echo and its voice persona, ‘Alexa’, become familiar technology for those using it by providing them with the skills (Amazon’s name for applications) that have been pre-loaded onto the Echo. These include activities such as playing music, listening to the news and checking the weather.
The second phase will adopt an Agile approach to develop the software which will provide bespoke skills for the device. An early skill, developed over a few weeks by PA, reminds users to take their medication. Linked to a pill dispenser through the Internet of Things, Alexa will verbally remind a person to take their tablets and track when they have not done so, sending an alert to a carer.
The final phase will look at how the Echo can be integrated into wider care systems. The exact skill to be developed will be confirmed through the involvement of social workers, carers and users as the project progresses. One initial idea is to develop a ‘where’s my carer?’ skill which could estimate when a carer will arrive, confirm who the carer is and remove the need for them to register their visits in the way they do now.
Throughout all three phases, the common objectives are to understand how the Echo can effectively be deployed, what support users might need and critically, based on user feedback, where it can have its greatest impact.
In conducting the pilot, the council wants to understand users’ experiences, the potential for financial savings and to what extent the pilot could be scaled up should the Echo prove appropriate for mainstream care.
Other key considerations which will be explored include its potential role in data management, the security requirements that will be needed, as well as other technological factors such as how to integrate the device into the council’s systems.
The project will be overseen by technical and service specialists, from both Hampshire CC and PA, as well as users and their carers, some of whom have already proactively volunteered having read the council’s recent press release about the project.
Pending the outcome of the pilot, the results of which will be assessed by the LGA (and who will share lessons learned nationally across other councils), Hampshire will assess other areas where an Echo could be used.
Early suggestions from social workers, carers and users include using it to remind people to stay hydrated by linking Alexa to movement sensors around the home. This means when a person enters their kitchen they can be prompted to have a drink. Other options include encouraging people to keep fit by suggesting local walking routes of different lengths.
All those involved are very excited about the potential of this project to bring innovative services to the most vulnerable people. It has clear scope to complement support from human carers and help ensure resources are focused on supporting those with the greatest needs, and drive real improvements in social care.
David Rees is head of local government services at PA Consulting Group