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Acoustic monitoring: Freeing up stretched care workers in a time when “going beyond” is a necessity

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Prior to the pandemic, social care workers were already working at stretched capacity. However, recent events have forced the social care workforce to “go beyond” to meet the ongoing demands of caring for elderly and the vulnerable during a national crisis. In an open letter to the public, Martin Green, Care England’s chief executive, even called on retired care professionals to return to work to keep the sector operational.

Care workers are already tied up with daily tasks and caring for elderly or less able residents, and the additional pressure of heightened colleague sickness levels could have a damaging impact on the sector. Not only could the physical and mental wellbeing of carers be affected, but ultimately the quality of care provided to residents will be greatly impeded.

Having to do more with already stretched resources

As the care home sector continues to navigate through the pandemic, workers are rapidly having to adapt to doing even more whilst having less time and resources to do so. This is where innovative technologies and intelligent systems that can improve process efficiencies within the care home can be extremely beneficial.

For many care home workers, continuous monitoring of residents can be a time intensive task. Often workers are required to do routine check-ins on residents every two hours throughout the night to monitor resident wellbeing. For one care home of 80 residents, the average number of check-ins per night had been as many as 300. That’s on top of responding to incidents that require urgent attention, and additional cleaning and maintenance tasks night staff are often required to do in what is considered to be the quiet period.

Integrated communication and alert systems that utilize acoustic monitoring technology are a simple, yet effective step to alleviating this pressure. In fact, following the implementation of acoustic monitoring technology in the same care home, this figure was lowered to just 15 – a 95 percent of unnecessary check-ins. By placing acoustic sensors, with or without nurse call functionality, within a resident’s room, care homes can non-intrusively monitor sounds when a resident is sleeping. When any sound profile exceeds its individually set threshold, an alert can then be sent to a central station or forwarded to a mobile device. This enables staff to swiftly respond to the specific residents in need of care whilst leaving the others uninterrupted to rest. The latter is actually seen by many as the most important driver for the use of this technology in social care.

Limiting unnecessary resident check-ins

By having technology in place that enables staff to monitor residents remotely, care homes can vastly reduce the need for in-person check-ins and therefore help limit unnecessary contact between residents and staff during the pandemic. Whilst the complete reduction of in-person interactions is simply not possible in a care setting, providing an alternative to physical routine check-ins can help limit the spread of infection by reducing the need for workers to visit resident rooms as frequently.

For a number of care homes, domestic style baby monitors are used as a means of reducing continuous check-ins, however, these prove difficult to maintain and often do not have an effective radio frequency. This has led to many homes turning to video baby monitors, for when staff are unable to be present in the room. Whilst this may make monitoring easier for carers, privacy of residents is often compromised through this method. Acoustic monitoring technology on the other hand provides residents with enhanced levels of privacy, as alerts are only signaled should a sound go above the set threshold. To ease resident anxiety throughout the night, where check-ins have been reduced, care homeowners should consider monitoring equipment that allows carers to talk into the relevant room via the mobile handsets and the monitor screens. By doing so, both carer and resident can have the reassurance of communicating without needing to be face to face. If there is an instance where video monitoring is required, acoustic technology can be easily with cameras to provide a flexible solution.

Prioritizing quality care

During a period where care homes are likely to suffer from their own employees being off sick, on top of increasing care requirements for residents who may be sick themselves, technology that supports a pressured workforce is increasingly important. Not only to free-up stretched carers, but also minimize contact for vulnerable residents during the pandemic, by reducing the number of routine check-ins. As a result, carers can be deployed more effectively throughout the care home to focus on other valuable tasks and provide higher levels of care, while still being available to respond to any emergencies.

Because residents are not disturbed by in-room monitoring visits, residents can also benefit from a better night’s sleep. Both factors lead to improved levels of mental and physical health, which can improve the residents’ emotional wellbeing, increase levels of contentment and often decrease their levels of frustration resulting in less aggressive or angry behavior during the day. This improved wellbeing also results in a better quality of life for the resident and creates a happier atmosphere within the home for everyone. In fact, the implementation of an acoustic monitoring solution has seen an 80 percent drop in challenging behavior for some care homes. 

By utilizing acoustic technology, carers can constantly monitor residents via acoustic technology, enabling more proactive responses. By using sound to monitor resident movements, carers are alerted if a resident is about to get out of bed, enabling carers to proactively offer assistance. As a result, current users of this technology report a fall reduction of up to 55 percent. Improved sleep cycles, also reduces the number of falls and improves the overall resident wellbeing. Whilst falls can have both negative physical and mental consequences for the resident, they can also add additional pressure to an already strained workforce.

It’s clear to see that recent events have placed an unprecedented strain on the care sector. The use of technology to transform internal processes are crucial to easing workloads for carers. By improving efficiencies around routine tasks, carers can focus on caring rather than coping, both during the pandemic and beyond.

Phillip Moorcraft, UK Director, CLB