Social workers face arduous data entry and difficulties sharing information, says NHS Digital

A lack of interoperability between social care organisations’ IT systems and burdensome data entry processes are holding back technology adoption by social workers, a study has found.

Data inputting processes are time-consuming and burdensome in social care systems – Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0

According to the first phase of a research project commissioned by NHS Digital, the body that provides information and technology systems in the NHS, there needs to be better guidance for social workers on the use of IT systems and data protection rules.

The study, which is being carried out by the Social Care Institute for Excellence and market research company GfK, is now entering its second phase, with the report due in spring 2017.

NHS Digital said that the first phase of the work had identified a number of “concerns and challenges”, including a lack of interoperability between different organisations’ systems and time-consuming data entry systems.

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The study also found that there was a need for more timely access to information across the board, and that there was an “absolute requirement” that technology was used as an enabler not a replacement for face-to-face engagement.

Alongside the challenges, NHS Digital made some suggestions to increase the use of technology by social workers, which include providing more guidance on the Data Protection Act and ensuring that software and IT systems are meeting requirements.

In addition, social care workers should be offered toolkit on digital technology, including on teleconferencing options, as well as access to best practice case studies and new communities that could offer peer support in the use of IT.

NHS Digital has previously been criticised for focusing on other areas of the NHS before social care, and in a statement about the interim findings the chief executive Andy Williams said that the aim was the “start with the basics” when it came to support for social workers.

This includes identifying the minimum amount of information needed to effectively discharge somebody from hospital to social care or developing simple ways to exchange information without adding to administration, he said.

NHS Digital now wants to recruit more expert advice and input for the second stage of the research.

“There is much more that we can and will do,” Williams said. “To achieve this with maximum positive effect for social care professionals and users we need local authorities and social workers to be at the heart of an on-going conversation, on how to best harness information and technology to support the sector.”

Meanwhile, the Local Government Association has also published a report on improving social care through information and technology, which says that digital will play an important role in making cost savings as well as better services.

It highlighted a number of similar issues to the research commissioned by NHS Digital, including challenges around information sharing between organisations – particularly on what can and cannot be shared – and a lack of interoperability between systems.

It also found a lack of resource was holding IT use back, with the report noting that just 32% of councils surveyed earlier this year said that they strongly agreed there were adequate resources for technology implementation and change management.

Among its recommendations, the paper emphasised the importance of senior buy-in and the need to ensure digital and technology use is not left to IT specialists.

It also called for better funding for local area funding, saying that national organisations “should only deliver what is best delivered nationally”, and a commitment from suppliers to develop open interfaces that allow better information sharing.

“If we are to fully maximise the benefits that information and technology can play in the delivery of care then this requires engagement and collaboration from across the system – national organisations, local commissioners and providers as well as the voluntary and community sector working together with a shared purpose,” the report stated.

“Perhaps, more importantly, it requires leadership at all levels and across all organisations, continuing to co-design approaches with those using services.”


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