Tim Barclay, Chief Executive Officer at Appello – a provider of technology enabled care services
There is a digital revolution taking place in the UK today, as the telecommunications infrastructure shifts from analogue to digital. By 2025, analogue telephony services will be switched off entirely. This poses great challenges, but also offers huge opportunities for housing providers, many of whom rely on telecare alarm systems that are incompatible with an all-IP network. Whether providers are ready or not, the switch will happen, so it’s time to embrace the potential that digitally enabled care systems hold.
In October last year, the Telecare Services Association (TSA) released a white paper: A Digital Future for Technology Enabled Care, warning of the disruption that the replacement of the current Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) and Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) networks with Internet Protocol (IP) telephony would cause amongst technology enabled care (TEC) providers, stakeholders and the 1.7 million vulnerable people who rely on telecare in the UK. The TSA commented, “Technology enabled care, particularly telecare and telehealth, plays an increasingly important role in health and care. Yet it is threatened by disruption as UK telecommunications shift from analogue to digital.” Despite the difficulties we are presented with, could it be better to instead rise to the challenge?
Getting a head-start
The ‘deadline’ of 2025 might seem like a long way off, but this it doesn’t mean that everything is smooth running until then. Steps toward the switch are happening on a nationwide scale, starting as early as next year, so housing providers must be ready for the changes leading towards the eventual retirement of their analogue systems.
Current analogue systems and products already cause call failures and delays due to network incompatibility, putting vulnerable people at risk. A failure can occur when a call doesn’t reach the monitoring centre, or because it was received with impaired sound quality.
The life-saving potential of these systems cannot be understated, and digitisation could eliminate call failures and lower associated risks substantially. Instant call connections to emergency monitoring centres, allows older people to receive the help they need as soon as possible – in some cases increasing the chance of saving someone’s life.
Opportunities lie ahead
The digital switchover will involve a significant amount of work. However, to focus on the disruption it may cause is to ignore the huge potential of digital services in delivering supported living solutions fit for the 21st century. Today, digitally-enabled care offers a vastly improved user experience from the typical analogue pull cords, pendant alarms and door entry systems of the past.
Digital services not only provide increased resident safety through faster call connections and greater system resilience, but residents and relatives will benefit hugely from room-to-room video calling to visual door entry and a whole host of new digital technologies that promise to improve the lives and wellbeing of older people.
Several progressive housing providers already recognise the benefits and have gone digital. However, for the bulk of today’s housing providers their telecare systems still resemble devices that have been in place for the past 30 years – with functionality to match. These systems are largely analogue-based and frequently incompatible with modern, feature-rich digital systems..
There are some who feel that digital services are not a necessity for everyone right now. But, why deprive residents, patients and customers of the wellbeing and safety benefits of digital systems while waiting for a slightly different or improved version in the future? Technology will always improve, but the step change from analogue to digital is so great that waiting simply short-changes those who could benefit immediately. Simply put, housing providers relying solely on traditional analogue technology are leaving themselves and their residents behind. It’s time to change. Digital is now.