Interviews

The SMEs working together to provide better care for the elderly and disabled

7 min read

25 November 2015

The announcement on 24 November that the NHS will receive a £3.8bn, above-inflation, cash injection next year has once again stoked up a debate about how best to deliver healthcare to an ageing population with increasingly complex health requirements.

Although it’s not frequently reported, there is actually a growing army of smaller and medium-sized companies that are providing essential healthcare around the country and are innovating with new products and services. 

Many of these small, but ambitious, companies are beginning to collaborate not just with the NHS and local authorities but also with each other to create new ways of providing healthcare.

Typical of these is Protelhealth, a company that creates technology allowing older people to live in their own homes for longer. Its founder, Norman Niven, a qualified pharmacist, has more than 30 years’ experience within the healthcare industry during which he founded several pharmaceutical companies.

The Cheshire-based company is cooperating with Compassionate Care, a care-based SME to improve the “no contact” periods with its users while, at the same time, introducing a range of new innovative service packages at affordable prices. Compassionate Care, also based in Cheshire, wanted to extend its range of services to include monitoring between visits.

“My company was born out of personal experience and the desire to make a difference,” said Amanda Stoneham, Compassionate Care’s founder and managing director. “I regularly come across too many people that are just “getting what they are given” and don’t realise they have a choice. I’ve worked in residential homes, nursing homes and home care services since the age of 15. During that time, I have seen a lot of things done very well, but also seen a lot of things done badly.”

The collaboration has gone well but there have been challenges, according to Niven. The aim to improve “no contact periods” represented a significant change for Compassionate Care, because hitherto many of its clients had only had face-to-face visits once or twice a week. Like all care providers, for Compassionate Care keeping costs down and ensuring that the service is priced appropriately is essential.

“Relatives of the company’s service users expressed concerns about these ‘no contact’ periods but the cost of increasing contact was prohibitively expensive for most relatives and so concern often led to people feeling worry and guilt about not being able to afford more carer visits,” said Norman. “If ever an industry needed the touch of technology to deliver change and affordable homecare services, now was the time.”

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Previously Norman had developed two of the most innovative medication management systems to come to the healthcare market in the past 30 years. Nomad is a monitored dosage system, while Biodose is designed to be tele-enabled so that medication administration can be monitored in real-time anywhere in the world. Such was its appeal that it was acquired by a large pharmaceutical company even before it had come to market.

When Niven and his colleagues discussed the product with carers and their families served by Compassionate Care, they discovered that there was enthusiasm for this technology. He said: “The relatives’ view was simple and to the point – the Biodose product would allow them to monitor whether and when medication was being taken in real time. They would be able to respond rapidly and effectively if there was indeed an issue indicated and this would save the relatives upwards of £ 40,000 per annum in fees.”

The result of this collaboration between two SMEs working in the same sector is a website called telmenow.com, which was launched in May this year. Part of Protelhealth, it aims to bring together people and technology solutions for independent living, particularly the elderly. It uses an algorithm called “Ask Angie” to help visitors select the most appropriate product.

Niven and his colleagues appreciate that new technology can be a frightening prospect, not just for older people but for their relatives as well and so everything is tested thoroughly to ensure that not only does it work but that it’s easy to use. With 850,000 people around the UK affected by dementia, telmenow has a suite of products aimed at helping those who suffer from the condition as well as making life easier their families and carers.

Canary, for instance, is a discreet activity monitoring system that notifies friends or family of a dementia patient by text or email if something out of the ordinary happens in the patient’s home. Although there are no cameras or microphones, it provides enough information to tell the friend or family member that the patient is moving about as would be expected or if they’ve left the property.

Niven said: “Professionals, such as occupational therapists, have found the access to the latest technology a game changer in their quest to provide the very best products for their clients.”

Compassionate Care will now be offering a number of specially designed, technology-based service packages to monitor key activities of their service users and clients. It’s a unique selling point for the business, both Niven and Stoneham believe, alongside the kudos that comes from being the first homecare company in the UK to implement the very latest technology-based services and products to its clients.