Steve Mathieson is a freelance analyst, journalist and editor, covering IT, government and healthcare, often in combination, writing for publications including The Guardian, I-D Information Daily, editing Society of IT Management's magazine.@samathieson
An app for people with autism, learning difficulties and mental health conditions has been adopted by Hampshire County Council as part of its telecare support service, in some cases removing the need for social care.
The council has adopted Brain in Hand, a smartphone app that allows users access to advice and support. “It’s almost universally reduced demands of care that these vulnerable adults require over the last 12 months,” company director Heather Cook told the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (Adass) Care Apps conference in Birmingham on 7 March. “Brain in Hand has been able, for a number of cases, to completely remove the need for social care provision.”
She added that it has helped Hampshire users travel independently and start and stay in jobs, and has saved the council money. The app provides users with easy access to coping strategies and individualised support plans, and includes a traffic light system through which they can record their moods. If a user hits the red button, an adviser will get in touch directly.
“Personalised software, the ability to access individual strategies and goals but with the ability to request help when it’s needed the most is making a significant difference to the lives of our users and actually the organisations and families that we support,” Cook told the event.
She added that the app is designed to be unobtrusive: “As far as anyone else is concerned, you could be accessing Snapchat or Facebook or Instagram.” Provider organisations can access usage, helping them to adjust care plans where necessary.
The event showcased another start-up offering support to young adults with care needs. 24/7 Grid aims to help individuals, their families and carers plan daily activities and the support required to carry them out. It includes the ability to manage a personal fund for social care – the original justification of founder Rachel Mason, who cares for two adult sons with autism.
One son had the option of attending a residential care centre, 22 miles away from the Masons’ home in Somerset. “It may have met his needs, but it certainly didn’t meet any of his outcomes, his aspirations,” she said, which were to involve himself in the community and become less dependent on social care.
Mason was told the county would spend £1,700 a week on the care centre place. She used a grid to plan his time and how much home-based activities would cost in terms of support from carers and assistive technology. “When we looked at the package, it came to £986,” she said. “For me that was a win-win.” His social worker agreed to the package, which saves around £36,000 annually.
She said that the graphical, colourful grid generated by the system helps plan and discuss the care package. It also helps her son manage his life, although doesn’t dictate it: “He decided he wasn’t going to go shopping one week, we went with that, he went without food,” she said. He has also learnt to look at ways to use his money more efficiently, such as sharing activities and pooling budgets with other people with direct budgets. “I’ve been able to write a cheque for £2,500 back to the local authority because I don’t need that bit anymore,” Mason said. “It’s an incredibly simple tool, but incredibly empowering in enabling someone to reduce their reliance on adult social care.”
Colin Radcliffe, who told the event about his own experiences with depression, said that the apps recommended in his treatment were “very clinical, very sterile, very serious” and had a detrimental effect on him. He is looking for funding to develop an app that lets users express their moods with weather symbols and connect them to friends, aiming to emulate the most important element of face-to-face support groups.
Radcliffe is also working with the Organisation for the Review of Care and Health Applications (Orcha), which carries out independent reviews of health and care apps. “It really does represent what I believe would have benefitted me in therapy,” he said. “We need to make sure that people are downloading the right app for them.”