Telecare: the cost of a failure (updated)

The value of a telecare service, typified by the familiar red-button alarms worn round the neck or click to enlargewrist and providing the less able to confidently live an independent life is, of course, well known. Telecare also provides a range of unobtrusive wireless sensors that detects possible problems around the home such as a gas hob or tap left on,  smoke from a smouldering sofa where a cigarette may have fallen and so on.

There are many companies around the world providing telecare services. But what if the service suffers an interruption? What needs to be done and what is the cost?

The UK’s NHS in Scotland had to face these questions recently when the telecare service it provides in the Highland Council area suffered a total failure last week. The system had failed for about four hours last Saturday and, although a  backup system existed, that failed to deploy.

Even if the number of calls to a telecare service is minimal, once the system has been out of service for however short a time, the question is “was there a missed call”? If a service user raises an alarm or a sensor triggers one the emergency may be such that a repeat alarm may not be possible. This means every user must be contacted immediately, or as soon as possible, to ensure he or she is safe. In the NHS Highland case the user community is a modest one of around 2,500 and NHS Highland got to work as soon as they realised the backup system had failed to deploy. This included getting all partner agencies to help. For example, Highland Council was asked to contact wardens at sheltered housing units to check on any resident telecare users who had lost service and social services were asked to get care staff who visit clients  at home to check any that use the service.

According to the NHS the process of checking was due to complete by end of the next day, nearly 36 hours after the initial  service failure. In fact that is not an acceptable speed for a contigency plan for a service on which its users depend on for potential life saving help. It appears that the plan was a least-cost one based  on using existing services with no additional effort, not one based on least-time. If you are in the business of providing a service of this nature (and in many cases, making a profit) the cost of the failure must not include potential harm to its users if that is preventable. And that means the cost of the failure should include every user contacted as soon as possbile, even if the CEO had to drive to visit the client personally.

Updated: Local coverage in the Ross-Shire Journal

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