MediBioSense’s wearable health tracker is an impressive piece of tech. Not only does the smart watch keep the time but also tracks the wearer’s location, heart rate, risk of seizure and whether they’ve fallen down. Adding another level of security, the device can connect with off-site teams ready to snap into action at the first sign of the wearer’s health declining. However, Victoria Webber, franchisee of Bluebird Care Lincoln, the care franchise, wasn’t impressed when she first laid eyes on it. “The prototype was pretty chunky and a little bit ugly,” she says. “But I saw that what it could do was pretty amazing.” So despite its appearance, she happily agreed to trial the gadget with 11 of her clients at the tail end of 2017. While some found the device a bit bulky and difficult to charge, most were happy with the additional sense of safety it provided. “About 75% of those who’ve trialled it so far would like it permanently,” she says. “So we might add it to our care package in the future.”
But Webber is hardly alone. As a matter of fact, care franchises across Britain are eagerly embracing new technologies, heralding a pivotal change in the industry’s attitude towards innovation. “Traditionally, the sector has been very underinvested in terms of technology,” says Hannah MacKechnie, co-founder and director of Radfield Home Care, the care franchise. A reason for this was that the sector was predominantly run by local authorities and had very low profit-margins. “So people didn’t really have an appetite for it,” she says. “But the emergence and significant growth of the private market in social care over the last ten to 15 years have meant that companies are now investing in technology.”
From wearables monitoring people’s health to smartphone apps enabling carers to log sessions on the go, franchises in the industry are taking technology seriously and it’s easy to see why. “Getting the right technology in the right place at the right time is where a lot of care franchises are aiming to gain their competitive edge,” says James W. Carratt, founder and CEO at Clarriots Care, the care franchise. “Of course, the technology is available to us all but it’s the care franchises who move first who can gain the upper hand on their competitors and achieve stronger service delivery.” For instance, tech can alleviate administrative burdens by reducing paperwork, automatically update patients’ care programmes and ensure carers comply with regulations. “Our franchisees will really benefit from this by saving time, money and generally making the process of running their business far simpler,” he says.
Additionally, adopting modern tech enables franchises to provide better services to the people in their care and greater transparency for their loved ones. “Family [members] can find out who has visited their loved ones, when they visited, how long they were there for, what they supported them with and generally how they were,” says Carratt. Moreover, by offering patients a safety net and 24-seven monitoring, franchises can help people stay at home longer if they don’t want to go to a care home. “Technology is giving us the opportunity to provide a truly holistic service to our clients, placing them at the centre of everything we do and giving them full control to make their own decisions, maintain their own independence and live life the way they choose,” says Carratt.
Given the benefits introducing new tech can have, it’s hardly surprising franchisors choose to try them out. And with franchisees being at the coalface, franchisors are advised to take their ideas under careful consideration too. “You have to be mindful of not prohibiting franchisees from taking the opportunities they are presented with,” says Duncan Berry, chief operating officer at Bluebird Care. “But you have to look at what the business case for it is.” In other words, before franchisors give franchisees their thumbs up to trial tech, both parties must be clear what the potential business benefits and risks are. It’s also important they both understand how much money and time are needed to get it done correctly. “It’s really about weighing it up on its business case merits and then take it from there,” Berry says.
Front and centre of these considerations is how franchises handle data. On the plus side, many new devices enable organisations to source a lot of data, empowering them to improve their models. On the other hand, franchises that store data must be compliant with the law, a challenge set to grow considerably when the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into force in May. “There are certainly more things to consider with GDPR on the horizon,” says MacKechnie. The new legislation will mean tighter restrictions on consent to store people’s personal data, how it is stored, who has access to it and how secure it is from cybersecurity breaches. Failure to comply could leave franchises facing fines of up to €20m or 4% of the annual turnover of the organisation, whichever is higher. “It’s obviously very important with GDPR to understand the obligations and make sure we can still provide our service,” she says.
Another consideration to be mindful of is how adopting new technology will transform the industry for the people in it. If you’re curious about what’s to come, then it might be worth taking a look at Asia. “In Japan they’ve got a real challenge in terms of looking after their ageing population,” says MacKechnie. Indeed, over a quarter of the country’s population is over 65. At the same time, there is a huge shortage of capable care workers. In order to resolve the issue, over 5,000 Japanese care homes are trialling robotic carers, according to The Economist. From SoftBank’s humanoid Pepper to RIKEN’s more anime-inspired Robear, nursing robots are proving a smash hit in Japan. However, while these robots can offer support, human carers shouldn’t start worrying about their jobs just yet. “Human contact is hugely underestimated,” says MacKechnie. “Loneliness is a huge problem. So having real people visit is highly, highly valuable.”
That being said, she’s optimistic about what adopting new tech has already meant for franchises. “The use of technology is conveying the fact that the care sector is becoming a grownup business,” says MacKechnie. “It’s an incredibly exciting time to become a part of that.” So while human carers won’t be replaced by robots any time soon, the benefit innovations can have in the industry is obvious. “Technology is assisting us to be able to really drive the business forward and support clients in the best way possible,” she concludes.