KinCare Health Services Pty Ltd, NSW
Improving social connectedness through technology
KinCare Health Services Pty Ltd, NSW
Home Care - Metropolitan, 80 + beds
Communication and engagement, Social participation, Technology
About the program
We started exploring the appetite for social technology in older people through a pilot in 2014. Following that success, we applied for a grant through the Department of Social Services (now Department of Health) to co-produce a new social technology model with our customers. We wanted to understand whether technology could improve the social connectedness of older Australians at risk of social isolation.
Our model’s aim was to provide opportunities for older people to meet like-minded people, develop friendships, learn new skills and improve connections with family, friends and community through the use of technology. The technology, classes and community events provided the opportunity to bring people together, thereby reducing social isolation.
Our social technology model included a tablet device, data, social connection platform, coaching and IT support. We launched our model at a series of community events, during which participants had the opportunity to express interest and/or enrol in a trial of the model.
All participants received a home visit to set up, customise and introduce the device. This was supplemented by group and/or individual training sessions and access to IT troubleshooting support.
During the individual and group training sessions, we applied continuous improvement strategies to adapt and enhance our products to meet the needs and expectations of customers. At the trial’s conclusion, participants reported a marked increase in their technology use for social connections.
This trial demonstrated that technology is an enabler, providing the opportunity to bring people together for shared learning and companionship.
What we did
Objectives and outcomes
We trialled a social technology model co-produced with our customers to answer the research question: “Can the use of technology improve the social connectedness of older Australians who are at risk of social isolation?”
The aim of our model was to provide opportunities for older people to meet like-minded people, develop friendships, learn new skills and improve connections with family, friends and community through the use of technology, thereby reducing social isolation.
From our pilots, we learned that technology is an enabler to achieve the customer’s goals and dreams, rather than it being the focus of the model. For example, if a customer’s goal was having more family contact, we helped them learn about emails, Skype and photo sharing to increase their social connections with family.
We trialled a social technology product with a tablet device, data, social connection platform, coaching and IT support. We launched our model at five community events in four different regions, attracting 400 customers and family members. Everyone who attended had the opportunity to express interest and/or enrol in a trial of the model. Each community event was facilitated by employees with IT or customer service experience.
From these events, we signed up 100 tablet users to participate in our social technology model trial. Most of these customers were in their 70s and 80s.
Planning and implementation methodology and use of innovation
All participants received a home visit to set up, customise and introduce the device. We used these visits as an opportunity to understand users’ goals and determine what they were seeking from the device and program.
These home visits were supplemented by group and/or individual training sessions, assessment of levels of skill and motivation and ensuring users understood how to access IT troubleshooting support if they ran into difficulties.
Coaching was provided by employees with experience in IT and customer service, as well as home care workers who attended an in-house Tech Lead training program focussing on how to support one-on-one learning.
Stakeholder engagement and co-production
During the individual and group training sessions, we applied continuous improvement strategies to adapt and enhance our products to meet the needs and expectations of customers. We quickly understood through these sessions that we needed to individually customise the learning and the technology to the needs of our customers. For instance:
- Using large icons in preference to menu options
- Our research informing us of the most appropriate applications for the 65+ demographic - Facebook, Skype, Google, Email, Kindle, Ancestry.com, photos and camera, Games
- Including options for online shopping
- Integrating self-learning at the user’s pace with no constraints
- Specifically customising for individuals; for example, voice activation benefiting visual impaired users and a stroke rehabilitation customer using the technology to access speech therapy apps.
Monitoring and evaluation methodology
Before the trial commenced, all participants were surveyed to understand their experience with technology and the degree of their social interactions. This information was compared with a post-project evaluation.
Why we did it
Our rapidly changing and technology-dependent world, coupled with people living longer, is escalating social isolation amongst older Australians. Findings from Galaxy Research show that social isolation is at epidemic proportions, with up to 45% of seniors reporting they experience loneliness.
Many factors associated with ageing contribute to this. Census information shows that 25% of seniors live alone in private dwellings – increasing to 35% of people aged 85+ (ABS, 2011). Research from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare also indicates:
- 81% of seniors aged 85+ have a disability and 54% of these have severely limited mobility
- Seniors with disabilities spend 85% of their waking hours alone (AIHW, 2012)
Whilst the wider population take technology for granted; 54% of older Australians do not access the internet at home (ABS, 2011). Of the 1.1 million Australians who have never accessed the internet, 70% are aged 65+ (ABS, 2011).
Older Australians who do access the internet, use it for:
- 30% for social networking
- 30% for video calling (ABS, 2011).
Given that many older people spend their days alone and experience reduced mobility, and there is evidence that older Australians will use the internet for social reasons, we were interested in understanding whether the use of technology could improve the social connectedness of older Australians who are at risk of social isolation. From this, we embarked on developing a new social technology model that could best answer this.
Who worked with us
Very early in the project we realised the success of our project relied on three main groups:
- The community – we were very interested in sharing our experience with the social technology model, as well as reaching as many older people as possible who could benefit from it. As a result, we invited other aged care providers in our region, four regional assessment services, peak bodies in the aged care industry, an advocacy service, seniors groups and the local newspaper to our five community events. In the end we attracted 400 customers and family members. From these events, we signed up 100 tablet users to participate in our social technology model trial.
- Our customers - We decided a co-production model developed iteratively would work best. In this way, through the project we could determine the most suitable combination of support, customisation and technology product for our customers. For example, during the individual and group training sessions (across eight locations weekly) we were able to apply continuous improvement strategies to adapt and enhance our products to meet the needs and expectations of our customers. This allowed customers to choose the pace and the content of the groups and maintain choice and empowerment over their involvement.
- Our staff - Coaching was provided by employees with IT experience, as well as home care workers who attended an in-house Tech Lead training program focussing on how to support one-on-one learning.
What we learned
Evaluation of the initiative
At the conclusion of the project, we undertook a survey of our customers to learn about their experience with the technology and how it had affected their social connections. The results of this survey can be found below.
We also conducted an internal review of the project with senior stakeholders to understand the project’s achievements and from this, we determined the project relied on the following critical success factors:
- It was customised and responsive
- It engaged supporters
- It provided an enabling learning environment
- It was socially meaningful.
Outcomes and benefits
From the post-project survey, we were pleased to discover:
- 73% of participants increased their social connection opportunities with family and friends
- 65% used technology to connect with family at least weekly, 40% with friends and 20% with their local community
- 60% felt fairly confident to very confident when using this technology, up from 30% reporting they felt fairly confident in the pre-project survey.
- 54% reported their ability to use technology had increased a fair bit to a lot from the pre-project survey
- 40% now regularly using Skype, up from 14%.
Several months after the project, we are happy to report that:
- 90% of customers who participated in the trial are still using their tablets
- They mostly use their tablets to access the internet for news, books, games, entertainment, Facebook, Skype, photos and email.
- The average user is going online every three days.
Many of those who have participated in the trial are not only still using the technology to increase their social connectedness, but through the trial and the groups they have also established new friendships. These participants now meet up and use the tablets to stay in touch. For example, the technology training groups had many examples of the participants becoming the trainer, including a leader arranging to meet with another customer weekly to coach her on how to use the tablet. They have since become friends.
The success of the project is also demonstrated in the testimonials that we have received from those who participated in the events and trial, as well as those from industry supporters.
Lessons for continuous improvement for this service
One of the main lessons that we learned for continuous improvement of this service was that customers/users are at the core of this model. To make the model a success, we needed to adapt and enhance our products to meet the changing needs and diverse expectations of our customers. The continuous improvement strategies we used allowed customers to choose the pace and the content of the groups and maintain choice and empowerment over their involvement.
How this project could be transferred into other aged care initiatives
Other providers can take these learnings on board as they explore their own adoption of technology in other aged care initiatives. Whether starting big or small, the principles of consumer engagement, partnership and co-production all apply.
A key learning is that technology is simply the opportunity to bring people together for shared learning and companionship – technology itself is not the focus – it is just the enabler.
Ensuring the sustainability of this program
We are continuing to support customers who participated in the trial and are now offering our social technology support model in our home care packages and in our private services. We have also developed a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) model which is attracting interest from existing and new customers.
In addition, we have established a Help Desk with business hours support for our social technology support customers so they can either email, phone or message if they need help with their devices.
We are committed to continuing with our model and will further monitor the experience of our customers and the efficacy of the model through regular customer satisfaction
More information on this program:
Gavin Hudson, firstname.lastname@example.org or phone (07) 3442 2600