The digital way forward

25 Aug 2016

These days most of us struggle to function without technology. Whether we’re texting a friend, shopping online or booking flights, technology allows us to do things far more quickly and efficiently.

This is also true in almost all aspects of industry, perhaps with the exception of social care where somehow the sector has simply not kept up.

On a recent visit to Jewish Care, Alistair Burns, NHS England’s National Clinical Director for Dementia, told us: “Health and care have not always kept pace... yet the use of innovation can deliver huge improvements in the quality of care and life for people with social care needs.”

His words were timely for Jewish Care, an organisation who over the last few years have been exploring how technology can help improve the way we provide services and support to the community.

The first major project to plug this gap has been the launch of Jewish Care Interact. This multi-faceted online service, supported by the KC Shasha Charitable Foundation, provides an excellent source of advice, information and activities for older and disabled Jewish people, their friends, family and carers.

The 24/7 online resource enables users to access information anytime, on a broad range of topics to help facilitate independent living. The easy to navigate site includes information on living with a disability or health condition, signposting to the right care, and ideas about how to age well and keep healthy. The service also promotes numerous courses and activities offering the opportunity to learn new skills and engage in creative pursuits. There is also a section on Jewish life and culture filled with delicious recipes and festival resources.

Jewish Care Interact was developed in partnership with a group of our clients, as well as their families and carers, who were asked for their thoughts and ideas as the project evolved. Sandi Wassmer, who manages the development of Jewish Care’s Digital Services, explained, “By involving an expert panel of our service users from day one, we have been able to ensure that Jewish Care Interact provides the information and signposting that our target audience actually want and need.”

She added, “It has also been carefully designed to work with all sorts of assisted technology, such as specialist keyboards or screen readers. Anyone with any ability can use this resource.”

For those experiencing memory loss, the virtual reminiscence room offers a therapeutic experience using different foods, items, The 24/7 online resource enables users to access information anytime places and events to stimulate the senses. Topics include memories from the Jewish East End and celebrities with Jewish heritage, making use of songs, images and video clips to enhance the reminiscence experience. Recognising how vital peer-to-peer support is, the resource also hosts an online chat forum to give anyone with concerns or questions the opportunity to speak with others in a similar position.

Matthew Kayne, a volunteer at Michael Sobell Community Centre and a previous resident at Jewish Care’s Rela Goldhill, sat on the expert panel. “Taking part in workshops for Jewish Care Interact was really interesting and I was able to give my ideas on where everything should go. It’s a brilliant resource as it is so easy to use and you can communicate with lots of different people through it. There’s something for everyone.”

The service is continuing to expand and the hope is that as it does, the users will connect through online forums and discussion groups, providing vital peer to peer support.

Jewish Care Interact is just the beginning of a much more ambitious strategy by Jewish Care to get older and disabled people more digitally engaged.

Sandi, who is herself visually impaired, highlighted why this new strategy is so important. “For someone like me, if it wasn’t for technology, I wouldn’t be working. It’s the difference between me being dependent and independent. It allows me to communicate, participate and be active. That’s why I’m such an advocate and feel Jewish Care has a responsibility to support those members of the community who wish to develop their digital skills.”

One way in which Sandi and her team plan to do this is through Jewish Care’s Karten Centres. These have historically offered the community the opportunity to learn general computer skills such as using Word and Excel. Now Jewish Care is planning to offer people the chance to learn the digital skills they really want.

Sandi told us: “It’s no longer about sitting in front of a computer. We’re looking at all different types of technologies and how we can best support older and disabled people to live in the digital age. We want to see them using the technology which will actually help them participate in society and get on with their lives.” Technology in people’s homes and social care settings is developing at a rapid rate with innovation delivering huge improvement in the quality of care and life for people with social care needs. Recognising this, and the need to explore and develop these opportunities, Jewish Care have recently employed their first ever Digital Transformation Manager.

Lisa Jacob who has taken on the new role explained: “We’re less excited about the technology and more excited about the opportunity to better meet people’s needs. We are considering a broad range of technologies which will enhance the service we provide, from technology which will help staff administer medication to lasers which inform staff if a resident has fallen even if they are unable to reach their alarm button.”

She added: “This is not about replacing one- to-one care. This is about giving staff the tools to help free up their time so that they can spend even more of it with our residents and service users – the people who matter most.”

Take a look at our new digital service at: www.jewishcareinteract.org

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