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Analogue telecare is a dead horse: stop flogging it

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This article was published in Telehealth and Telecare Aware.

Call failures to alarm receiving centres in the UK are rising but the reasons for this are currently the subject of hot debate.

The problem is linked to the roll out of the next generation network (NGN) replacing the UK’s analogue Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN), a task which will be complete by 2025.

What is not debatable is that 1.7m of the most vulnerable in our society are being placed at risk as calls to alarm receiving centres (ARCs) increasingly fail or are delayed in their delivery due to incompatibilities of existing technologies.

At the Telecare Services Association (TSA) conference in November 2017, technology-enabled care services company Appello, with circa 100k telecare system users, identified a 7.5 percent call failure rate and announced the problem as “deeply worrying”.

At the same event, Communicare247 presented a report which highlighted a significant 12.3 percent spike in call failures identified by Falkirk Council. This was part of an ongoing analogue to digital assessment program operating across 12 percent of the existing Scottish telecare user base, and significantly this spike occurred in Falkirk within a short three month period. Both Falkirk Council and Appello have published their evidence of increasing call failures in a TSA whitepaper.

The TSA white paper, A Digital Future For Technology Enabled Care, highlights that the 1.7million people in the UK reliant on telecare need answers as their service is “threatened by disruption as UK telecommunications shift from analogue to digital”.

Yet the link to call failures and the rollout of NGN has been called into question by a major equipment provider. In a recent blog, they asked a very challenging question: Are network issues causing a greater number of alarm call failures?

Their answer delivered by the blog was, in essence, ‘maybe not yet’.

In a comparison between one ARC, where call failures were high versus another where they were low, the blog claimed that “while the use of NGN networks has grown in the last few years this cannot account for the increasing trend”.

As a potential compromise, the author also said that they could overcome any potential issues through the use of hybrid terminal adaptors (ATAs).

However, evidence both in the UK and Sweden plainly demonstrates call failures increase as the network switches to digital. This is caused by signalling corruptions and time delays introduced as analogue signals from the telecare units at home make their journey across hybrid analogue and digital networks, and then back again into the existing analogue alarm receiving centres.

Sweden, which is Europe’s leader in the delivery of digital TEC, also dismissed the adoption of ATAs in favour of a fully digital solution across over 150,000 deployments

Their experience must be considered now the UK telephony network is switching to digital.

In 2007 when Sweden was switching its phone network, there were multiple incidents reported where social alarms failed to connect to the NGN. The consequences of this were made clear when a 76-year-old man died when his social alarm failed to connect to the digital network via his analogue telephone line.

As a result, the Swedish Post and Telecom Authority advised municipalities in Sweden that hybrid/analogue solutions, including ATAs, should be avoided, arguing that a fully digital telecare system is critical to ensure that alarm services are delivered, developed and function in a reliable manner for end-users.

Falkirk is a leading digital advocate and they foresaw that a more robust digital solution was needed. But with no clear options available in the UK, Communicare247 rose to their challenge by engaging with the local authority in the co-design of an award-winning, fully-digital cloud-based alarm receiving centre system.

Using existing TEC partners available from procurement body, Scotland Excel, the local authority now has almost 1,000 digitally-enabled TEC users. It is well on track for all of its 4,500 telecare users to be served by a fully digital TEC system by 2021, in what will be a UK first and aligned with the Scottish Government’s digital agenda.

The UK’s healthcare policy makers now have a clear decision to make: accept the use of ATAs within a hybrid analogue/digital solution or implement a proven, fully digital system that is both more robust and paves the way for future applications of tele-healthcare.

It is pleasing that the Scottish Local Government Digital Office, the Scottish Centre for Telehealth and Telecare (SCTT), and their independent consultants Farrpoint are aligned with the Swedish policy and does not support the use of hybrid solutions or ATA’s (Analogue to Digital Telecare).

I also welcome the recent report from Scottish Government, Scotland’s Digital Health and Care strategy, which confirms the direction of travel is to take a digital-first solution to the impending telecare problem.

The report also highlights the benefits of delivering a truly digital telecare system that maximises the opportunities the shift to digital provides, such as smart sensors and remote diagnostics. This is the only way that the promise of independent living for the elderly population in a cost-effective manner will be achieved.

The government’s commitment to digital telecare services in Scotland will deliver a reduction in delayed discharge from hospitals and ensure the elderly will be able to remain living independently in their homes for as long as possible.

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Call for urgent action on latest state of the NHS Providers report

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Article published in Care Sector Hub.

A new report on the challenges facing the NHS and the provision of community services has revealed the urgent need for healthcare commissioners to invest in cost effective digital telecare services and applications. 

NHS Providers’ State of the provider sector report, entitled ‘Community services: taking centre stage’ confirmed that technology has enabled “multiple interventions” to be carried out in the home or in community settings, which is essential to the integrity of healthcare provision as the population ages. 

However, the report sets out how community services are struggling to meet demand as budgets decline. It further highlights that the majority (three quarters) of community care providers in England are worried that investment will fail to deliver services closer to home for patients in the next five years. 

Tom Morton, CEO of telecare specialist Communicare247, said digital telecare services which enable people to stay in their homes longer as well as save commissioners cash were essential to overcoming the community care crunch facing England.

He said: “We welcome the report from NHS Providers which sets out in stark terms the damage that the lack of adequate support for people in their homes can cause.

“According to the report, a person aged 80 who spends ten days in a hospital bed adds ten years of ageing to their muscles, which makes their ability to live independently that much harder. 

“Demographic trends for the UK population are undeniable. The NHS and community care commissioners must act now to ensure that robust systems of telecare and tele-healthcare that deliver improved patient outcomes are put into use. The report found that 91% of health care trusts expect the gap between funding and demand to widen significantly just in the next year. 

“Not only this, but there is an urgent issue facing telecare service providers as the UK telephone network switches to digital. Existing systems are at risk and need to be modernised to deal with future requirements as soon as possible.

“We urge commissioners to plan and invest now in digital and technology-enabled care services such as 24-7 mobile monitoring, digital pill dispensers and other ‘[email protected]’ support systems. These are available, tested and deliver improved patient outcomes by ensuring people can leave hospital and get the care they need at home.”

Digital telecare specialist warns switch off could lead to failure of home care systems

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Social healthcare commissioners must move quickly to do adopt new telecare systems as the UK faces a switch-off in its analogue network, a specialist has said.

Current telecare systems that ensure the safety of people in their homes will soon be obsolete and local authorities in Dundee and across the UK need to adopt solutions to ensure these services remain robust, Tom Morton, CEO of digital telecare specialist Communicare247 said.

Speaking at the Dundee Smartcare Convention, Mr Morton highlighted that the analogue telecommunications system currently used to deliver telecare to around 5,900 users in Dundee and Tayside will be completely shut off by 2025 and replaced by a digital (IP) system.

He said: “Telecare and telehealth plays an increasingly important role in health and care yet it is threatened by disruption as UK telecommunications shift from analogue to digital.

“Not only this, but the number of people reliant on telecare in the UK is expected to treble by 2020. The current analogue system is already unsustainable, yet more and more people are expected to be reliant on these kinds of services as the population ages and they want to live as independently as possible for as long as possible.

“The vast majority of current telecare systems will need to be upgraded or decommissioned in order to maintain services to users. Conferences such as the Dundee Smartcare Convention are essential to ensure awareness is raised about this issue.”

The UK and Scotland is currently investigating the use of systems that will allow social healthcare providers to continue supporting an estimated 1.7million users of telecare in Britain. However, current proposals currently being developed in the UK are unlikely to offer the best solution to the problem caused by the switch to digital, Mr Morton said.

Mr Morton believes that analogue telephone adaptors (ATAs) – so called hybrid systems – currently being tested are not sufficiently robust and could lead to failures in UK telecare systems, causing undue risk for users.
He said: “BT has confirmed the shut off is starting this year and will be complete by 2025. Already the analogue system is unsustainable due to increasing demands.

“Current analogue services already report around 3% of failed call attempts between the home and response services, because they cannot communicate effectively over the new digital telephone network systems.

“The hybrid solutions currently being tested in the UK have been shown to have too high a failure rate in other countries like Sweden, where they have adopted fully digital telecare systems instead. We cannot allow people to be at risk because their home alarm system failed to work.

“Experts at Ofcom and the Scottish Government increasingly favour a fully digital solution which will ensure telecare systems are fail-proof and future-proof as new technologies in monitoring and support come into play.”

In Scotland, costs to ensure telecare services can still be delivered following the switch to digital are estimated to start at around £48million. However, Mr Morton said digital telecare services will be more cost effective for social care providers including Dundee City Council.

Mr Morton said: “Reports on deployment of digital telecare have shown the potential to create savings of between £3m to £7.8m for a typical council. This will be increasingly important for Scotland’s councils and the NHS which must cut hundreds of millions from health service budgets while dealing with significant growth in users due to demographics.”

Communicare247 recently won the Local Excellence Award at the at the Scotland Excel Supplier Excellence Awards, which recognised the work the company has done with Falkirk Council to address a national switchover from analogue to digital technology, provide better solutions and increase citizen choice.

Scotland Excel Local Excellence Award 2018

Digital telecare specialist honoured at Scotland Excel’s Supplier Excellence Awards

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The following article was featured in Digit, Scotland’s Technology Media and Events Hub.

A Glasgow SME has scooped a prestigious award at the only awards programme in Scotland that recognises the achievements of local government suppliers.

Communicare247 was crowned winner in the Local Excellence category at the Scotland Excel Supplier Excellence Awards.

The company is a supplier on the Scotland Excel Telecare and Telehealth contract which helps Scottish councils support people with a wide range of needs and enable people to live independently.

Their Local Excellence Award recognised the work the company has done with Falkirk Council to address a national switchover from analogue to digital technology, provide better solutions and increase citizen choice.

Tom Morton, CEO of Communicare247, said: “We started off our company to highlight the advantages of digital technology in telecare and winning the award is one of the best ways to highlight that.

“We are so pleased that all our hard work delivering a telecare solution that is fit for purpose and fit for the future has been recognised as an example of excellence by Scotland’s leading public procurement partnership.

“Winning means a reward for the Communicare247 team. Not only that, it acknowledges the support of fantastic people at Falkirk Council and Scotland Excel, who helped us all the way through the procurement process. It is a massive journey – it is not something for a small business to take lightly.”

Julie Welsh, director of Scotland Excel, said: “Our suppliers play a vital role in supporting delivery of essential public services, and it is right and fitting that we recognise those that go the extra mile.

“Winning a Supplier Excellence Awards is a real accolade for the business community, as it’s the only awards programme in the country to recognise the achievements of local government suppliers. Competition was tough, and our expert judging panel had its work cut out.

“My congratulations go to Communicare247 for their good work and well-deserved success in these prestigious awards.”

Twelve businesses scooped awards at the glittering event in Glasgow’s Radisson Blu Hotel which was hosted by Dougie Vipond, and opened by Derek Mackay, Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Constitution on Tuesday 20 February.

Digital box and peripherals

Government commitment to digital paves way for telecare services but time to act is now

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A Scottish Government plan to deliver care at home for our citizens was welcomed by an industry leader who called for urgent action now that a digital strategy has been agreed.

Tom Morton, CEO of Communicare247, said the government’s commitment to digital telecare services in Scotland would deliver significant improvements to health and social care, such as a reduction in delayed discharge from hospitals and help to ensure our citizens will be able to remain living independently in their homes for as long as possible.

 But he said the government needs to remain focussed so that 160,000 users of telecare in Scotland continue to be supported by the service which is being rendered obsolete by changes to the UK telephone network.

The ‘Scotland’s Digital Health and Care Strategy’ sets out a Scottish Government pledge to “ensure that social care systems are fit for the future… and support the significant impact of the impending switch over of  the UK’s telephony system to a digital network and its impact on analogue telecare services”.

BT will soon start switching the UK’s analogue telephone network to a fully digital network. Work commencing in August 2018 is expected to be completed by 2025. However other telecom providers have already begun the journey. Scotland’s 32 local authorities and 22 alarm receiving centres will need to be fully adapted to the digital network when the analogue system is shut off.

However, some operators of alarm receiving centres which answer distress signals from telecare users are already experiencing spikes in rates of call failures, which are being blamed on network incompatibility.

Tom Morton, who founded digital telecare company Communicare247 in Scotland over ten years ago, said that local authorities have less time than they think to put in place the technology and finance required to deliver digital telecare services.

He said: “There are 160,000 telecare users in Scotland. The budget pressures for local authorities and care providers mean that they cannot achieve transition within the deadline unless Government acts to give a clear direction.

“Existing budget spend for analogue services, which are effectively rendered obsolete by this announcement, means that most councils will take up to nine years to transition the existing users over to a digital service.  However the Government also has aspirations to increase the deployment of telecare. 

“Meanwhile, between autumn 2018 and 2025, large swathes of the UK will be switched affecting up to 1.7m telecare users. Ofcom has warned of their concerns for the impact to social alarm service users.

“The Telecare Services Association is leading the discussions and attempting to raise awareness, but any change needs to be driven at the local service provider level – the council.

“Given the budget challenges, and the closing deadline, and the increasing risk which is evidenced by reports of alarm call handling failures, it is up to the Government to provide clear guidance for a rapid change to safeguard our citizens.  

“The Digital Health and Care Strategy is an excellent first step as it fully embraces possibilities that digital telecare services will provide for citizens. It paves the way for sensor and monitoring technologies that enable people to live independently at home for longer. It is also offers an effective plan that will reduce pressure on the NHS to discharge people in a timely manner, as home support will be much easier to implement. Scotland now has a clear direction of travel when it comes to digital telecare but there is no room for deviation.”

Scotland Excel Award

Communicare 247 Short listed for Scottish Excel Supplier Excellence Award – Local Excellence

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Communicare247 are delighted to announce that we have been shortlisted for  the 2018 Scottish Excel, Supplier Excellence Awards for Local Excellence!

The award for local excellence recognises the work undertaken by micro-businesses, small companies or third sector organisations to deliver benefits to their customers.

Over the last 12 months, Communicare247 have been working with local authority Falkirk Council in their ambitious journey from analogue to digital.

Together, we have developed a state of the art platform designed to ease the transition between these two technologies while providing an effective level of care. As a proud Scottish SME, we are excited by the leaps we have taken. By simply listening to the wants and needs of our customer, we have been able to produce a unique cloud-based platform which integrates seamlessly with digital telecare services.

Although Communicare247 is small in stature, our ambition knows no limit. We aim to transform the UK telecare sector and improve the lives of millions of men and women.

We look forward to joining Scottish Excel on the 20th of February 2018 at the Radisson Blue, Glasgow and wait
with baited breath to find out the winner.

 

 

Warfare to welfare: digital ‘Freedom Devices’ targets growth

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Article as featured in The Scotsman

A former Royal Navy electronics engineer is expanding his company that develops systems to monitor vulnerable people in their homes.

Tom Morton founded Communicare247 “from an attic in Dunoon” in 1998, having built up expertise in communications and electronic warfare with the Navy before moving on to set up a satellite ground station in Stranraer for the European Space Agency.

In the early 1990s, he moved into the mobile phone industry, working with the public and private sectors and helping to develop ways of transferring data over analogue networks.

“I’ve always wanted to push the boundaries, and my wife introduced me to a chap who was running an alarm-monitoring centre for the elderly,” Morton said.

“That’s where the seed was planted, and I started looking at better ways of delivering social care using mobile phones and emergency services responders. There were huge cultural and technological barriers, but I knew we could do this and make a change.”

Morton said he initially focused on care workers “lone workers” who were exposed to risks because they were working alone, and went on to gain the support of police. In 2009, his firm “took a big plunge” by investing £1.5 million in an alarm centre in Dunoon with support from Highlands & Islands Enterprise and the local council.

The centre is manned around the clock by Communicare247 staff, who help to monitor about 20,000 users, such as court bailiffs, forestry workers traffic wardens and NHS staff. Other clients include outsourcing giant Capita, Marie Curie and Stirling Council.

Communicare247, which employs 14 people, recently opened an office on St Vincent Street in Glasgow with a view to winning more clients and attracting more skilled staff.

Morton said: “The new base gives us more access to the skills that are available in Glasgow and an opportunity to really expand the business by engaging with our customers.”

We need to switch to digitally-enabled care

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Article as published in The Scotsman

Business embraces digital technology, but the elderly and those in need are lagging behind when it comes to using it to provide their care.

Every day, business leaders make decisions about how they can apply the latest technology to provide them with a competitive advantage. This can extend to the alarm systems that protect their assets, to the £500 mobile phones used to support crucial business decisions on the move.

So why is it that we accept the use of outdated technology to protect our parents and those in need?

Current “telecare” systems – those alarms that sit by the phone or around people’s necks – use analogue, landline-based technology to raise the alarm.

This is the same technology that telecoms providers are pushing to move away from, with a 2025 deadline for the UK’s first moves towards withdrawing support for such infrastructure. By then it may already be too late, as even older consumers are moving to digital, mobile communications that work to meet their needs.

So what will happen to the alarm systems and supporting monitoring centres when the landlines disappear?

Sweden makes the move to digital

Other countries are far more advanced. The Swedish government was faced with pressure from a telecoms provider to use digital communications. With many of its elderly cared for at home, it recognised that it could no longer guarantee a safe service using analogue technology. It set out what was expected of municipalities, defined a set of service standards, and pressed “go”. Now almost half of the 215,000 people using such telecare services use digital technology.

Citizens can now start to realise the potential of the “smart home” and “internet of things” by connecting a range of devices to a central hub. Motion sensors can detect if people have fallen; personal alarms can work with handheld devices or on a mobile phone; smoke detectors can be checked remotely to see if they still work.

READ MORE: Warfare to welfare: digital ‘chaperone’ targets growth

Digital technology enables stakeholders to share information, and so provide more tailor-made health and care services such as telehealth and telemonitoring. Information can be shared to identify what support people need, which can help home care providers better arrange face-to-face contact, and support more efficient care assessment and planning. With fewer human and financial resources to look after the elderly, such advances are vital.

This would be unimaginable with the current infrastructure in place for home-based care. We need to make the move to digital and apply this technology to protect those who matter most.

Technology brings multiple benefits

How does Scotland compare to countries such as Sweden? It is getting there. The drive for digital is supported by a national digital broadband strategy, pooled health and care budgets, investments in technology-enabled care, and a uniting vision in the eHealth strategy.

As Shona Robison, cabinet minister for health and wellbeing, noted at eHealth Scotland: “As we move forward with the 2020 vision and integration of health and social care we must ensure that health and care services across Scotland effectively harness advances in digital technology to support a person-centred, seamless health and care journey for our citizens.”

Such political will needs to be matched by everyone involved in the industry to make digitally-enabled care a reality. Local authorities, care providers and digital communication innovators can come together to make this vision a reality.

It’s time to move on from these grossly inefficient analogue systems that do not meet the current needs of our citizens and hamper Scotland’s aspirations for person-centred home-based care. It’s time to commit to building a digital home care infrastructure.

Tom Morton is the founder and chief executive of Communicare247, which is hosted a conference, Delivering Scotland’s Vision for Integrated Digital Care, on Wednesday 1 June in Glasgow. The event showcased how Sweden and others are using such technology to provide an appropriate level of care for those in need. It also featured an update on Scotland’s vision for digital health and care, and how health and care leaders can make the bold, logical and inevitable move to digital.

Click on the link to view Mr. Morton’s Introduction to Integrated Digital Care