By 2025 analogue telephony services will be switched off completely in the UK. This presents a huge challenge to providers and users of telecare services, such as personal alarms and pull cords, as analogue devices will no longer be able to connect to emergency telephone lines. In fact, call failures are on the increase year-on-year, and the quality of service in decline, as more of the telecoms infrastructure transitions to an all-IP network and becomes incompatible with analogue systems. This presents huge risks for residents that rely on telecare services in an emergency situation.
Housing & Care 21 wanted to ensure that all residents not only benefitted from the highest standards in telecare systems in their homes, but also that they were modern, easy to use, and most importantly, reliable. Recognising that it would be uneconomical to continue to service, maintain or replace failing analogue systems with the same technologies, the organisation knew it was time to start the migration of analogue systems to digital ahead of the deadline.
The challenge for Housing & Care 21 was finding a partner capable of providing an end-to-end digital solution. Tony Tench, Chief Operations Officer at Housing and Care 21, said, “When we began to look at what was on the market we found that, while there were a few suppliers offering modern end user devices, there was a lack of providers delivering a complete digital package i.e. a digital monitoring centre capable of connecting those digital devices.
Given the incompatibilities between analogue and digital technologies that we see today, whether that’s analogue devices installed in resident homes trying to connect to a digital network or vice versa, there seemed little point in investing in anything other than an end-to-end solution.”
When we began to look at what was on the market we found that, while there were a few suppliers offering modern end user devices, there was a lack of providers delivering a complete digital package.
Housing & Care 21 first engaged Appello, a leading provider of technology enabled care services, to supply telecare solutions and monitoring services in 2014, before the digital switchover was on the horizon.
Appello was the first, and remains the only, telecare provider to offer end-to-end digitally enabled telecare solutions in the UK market i.e. delivering digital devices running over an all-IP network supported by a digital monitoring centre. With this in mind, Appello was the ideal partner for Housing & Care 21’s digital transformation project.
Housing & Care 21’s journey to digital began after a consultative meeting in 2016, where the issue of the digital switchover was highlighted by Appello. Beyond improving functionality associated with traditional monitoring, it was the potential of digital and what it would mean for the future delivery of care that Housing & Care 21 found really compelling, such as improved wellbeing and the potential to tackle loneliness amongst residents, as well as adding valuable new services and integrations with innovative smart home technologies.
Initially, the two businesses worked in collaboration to develop a wall mounted tablet to be used in place of traditional analogue systems. Residents benefit from room-to room video calling; they can see who is entering the property via the video door entry system; and video call onsite staff. The device also enables Housing & Care 21 staff to maintain visual but non obtrusive contact with residents, leading to greater efficiencies in care.
The first digital installation was completed in 2016 at Housing & Care’s Walton Court development in Durham. Following this success, the company committed to an extensive programme of digital upgrades to all of its 430 developments over the next few years.
Strategy and Implementation
The 2025 switchover provides a deadline for digital transformation; one that enables Housing & Care 21 to budget accordingly. A strategy was devised to break down the project into a multi-year investment, allocating and spreading budget appropriately. Housing & Care 21 is investing around £2 million per year to digital transformation, enabling it to upgrade around 40 developments each year, with additional budget assigned to new installations.
Trying to upgrade all sites at once simply wasn’t financially feasible and would mean longer completion dates. By working on a rolling-project basis, Appello and Housing & Care 21 is also able to continuously innovate, making improvements based on resident and staff feedback and ensuring that the latest technologies are continuously embraced. Factors such as the age of the current systems on site, the number of faults being reported, and the cost of maintenance and serviceability determine the order of priority for upgrades with flexibility built in.
David Mayes, Property Services Manager at Housing & Care 21, commented, “Over the course of our long term installation project, Appello has been able to accommodate pulling sites forward or moving sites back depending on our operational or commercial considerations at the time. This ability to be flexible has allowed us to keep on track with our programme and accommodate our changing priorities.”
Success and Benefits
Housing & Care 21 completed the first wave of upgrades on target; 100 of its sites have been migrated to digital with Appello’s support.
By replacing analogue technology, residents benefit from faster call connection times to the monitoring centre (down from one minute 30 seconds to just three seconds) – crucial in an emergency situation. Simultaneous calls can be placed across a development and two-way speech delivers an improved resident experience. Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, with 83% of residents stating that they feel greater reassurance from the reduced connection speeds.
In addition, more than half of residents said that their wellbeing has been improved now they can communicate via video; 89% of residents feel safer being able to see who is entering the property; and eight out of 10 residents agree that when compared to the previous system the appearance of the new system helps overcome the vulnerable perception of telecare. Carol Terry, resident at Valentine Court, commented, “It’s very handy to be able to connect with any flat without having to actually walk – especially at night or when not feeling well.” Residents also have complete reassurance that if they are on a call, any additional incoming calls will be handled offsite and won’t be missed, which provides peace of mind.
Appello’s technology improves efficiency in how Housing & Care 21 manages and staffs its business. The tablet device enables carers to visually check in on residents remotely using the video functionality. The “I’m OK” function enables residents to let carers know that they are “OK” at the click of a button. This gives Housing & Care 21 residents flexibility over their level of care, supporting greater independence.
For staff, it also enables prioritisation of time and reduces unnecessary visits to residents. “I will now video call each resident in the morning from the communal lounge to see if they are coming down for a cup of tea”, says Debbie Kershaw, Court Manager at Pearce Smith Court.
Appello’s dashboard, AppelloHQ, serves as a real-time platform for the operational on-site management of Housing & Care 21’s developments. For example, the platform can summarise all alerts and alarms that have been raised by each resident in any particular period, highlighting where additional or less support is required, further driving efficiencies in staffing. Technical faults in the system are proactively highlighted to Housing & Care 21 staff meaning less downtime, particularly where maintenance can be carried out remotely. The dashboard red flags when batteries are running low on devices, increasing support and saving time for court managers by eliminating the need to manually test and check them, which reduces the risk of alarms not activating.
This ability to be flexible has allowed us to keep on track with our programme and accommodate our changing priorities.
Going forward, Housing & Care 21 has committed to the transformation of the next wave of sites to be completed by spring 2019, with the remaining developments to be completed ahead of the switchover in 2025. Appello has also been selected to work on fitting digital telecare for six of its new build sites, currently in development and set to be complete by the end of 2019.
Bruce Moore, Chief Executive at Housing & Care 21, commented on the transformation project, “We pride ourselves on being a market leading provider of retirement housing and extra care services for older people. Being at the forefront of digital technology that supports more independent living aligns to our brand name and values. Working in partnership with Appello, we know that our residents will continue to receive the highest standards of care up to and beyond the 2025 digital switchover deadline.
In addition, digital enables us to look at new service models that promise to deliver added value to our residents and drive efficiencies in care. Ultimately, this means we can differentiate ourselves in an increasingly competitive and challenging market. The potential for digital technology in the housing sector is huge; it’s really thanks to Appello’s vision and drive that we’re on this digital journey today.”
In the future, it is expected that digital will drive the adoption of smart home technology for Housing & Care 21. Today the company is exploring the value these technologies could have in supporting the wellbeing of residents in the future.
Tim Barclay, CEO of Appello, concludes on the project, “Housing & Care 21’s enthusiasm and passion for embracing digital technology has given us the opportunity to work in partnership with a market leader to continue to develop the best technology for residents of retirement and extra care housing. Housing & Care 21 has really set a benchmark for other housing organisations, demonstrating how beneficial digitisation is for residents and for housing providers in enabling the best care and service possible.”