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Research sets out improved process for using AI technology in social care

central processor unit with 3D render of words 'AI artificial intelligence technology'

Published: 10 March 2023

An NIHR-funded study has informed a guide which helps providers to introduce artificial intelligence (AI) technology into adult social care. 

The newly-launched guide is aimed at councils and social care providers. It sets recommendations on using AI and other data-intensive forms of new and emerging technology. 

It is produced by the University of Birmingham and RAND Europe, through the BRACE Rapid Evaluation Centre, and is co-badged by Digital Social Care and social care partners within the NHS England Transformation Directorate. 

The booklet shares findings from a BRACE study funded by NIHR. The study looked at decision making and implementation processes for home sensors with AI capabilities. 

The sensors had been piloted across different social care sites in England and collect data on regular habits. These may include kettle use, flushing the toilet, getting out of bed, and opening the door. This helps build a picture of people’s usual routines. It also flags when a significant change takes place, which can be a sign of deteriorating health or well-being. 

Despite this potentially powerful use of AI technology, the study found there were issues with implementation and decision making. This kept the technology from meeting expectations in terms of having a positive impact on care. 

Jon Glasby, professor of health and social care at the University of Birmingham said: “Technology could have the potential to transform the way we deliver social care, but so many attempts to introduce new technology seem to over-promise and under-deliver. This could be for many different reasons, including a lack of understanding or fear of technology, unrealistic expectations about what technology can achieve, or underestimating the importance of social and cultural change alongside technological solutions.

“In our new guide, which has been co-badged by Digital Social Care and social care colleagues from the NHS England Transformation Directorate, we set out some of the common pitfalls to help other Councils and social care providers who want to go down this route.”

The guide sets out a simple four step process: 

  • be clear about what you are trying to achieve. Involve people who draw on care and support, families and front-line staff in these discussions
  • choose the best technology for your needs. Understand the potential risks. Assess whether your current digital infrastructure is ready for this new tool
  • communicate well with people who draw on care and support, carers and care staff. Make sure you have the right training in place, and be clear how you will use any data you produce
  • build in evaluation from the beginning. Learn from what does not work as well as from what does. When this pilot is finished think through what you might do next

Minister for Care, Helen Whately said: “We want to see adult social care making the most of new technology. For instance, AI could help us better understand - and meet - people’s care needs, based on their day-to-day habits.

“As part of our social care reforms we will encourage care providers to take up opportunities to use technology to improve care, but this won’t happen overnight. That’s why we’ve helped to develop this guide. It will help care organisations make more use of innovations in what they do day-to-day. It’s a great way to make caring better and easier - whether that’s reducing the number of forms to fill out or adopting better technology to allow people to live at home independently for longer.”

The Birmingham, RAND and Cambridge (BRACE) rapid evaluation centre is funded by NIHR through its Health and Social Care Delivery and Research (HSDR) Programme to evaluate new types of health and social care services. For more information, please visit the NIHR website.

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