How technology helps to deliver better health and social care

How technology helps to deliver better health and social care


Microsoft’s Brett Lightfoot, Kenya McKenzie-Jones and Andy Pitman explain how the cloud, automation and AI can help social and care organisations to work more productively and deliver coordinated and person-centric care to vulnerable people  

Rebecca Gibson |

Every second counts during an incident of violence. However, police and social services often have limited power to intervene, and often only after significant emotional, psychological or physical harm has occurred. 

To provide more immediate assistance, Australia-based charity StandbyU Foundation has developed an industry-first application, which is built on Microsoft Azure and programmed into standard smart watches. With StandbyU Shield, victims can now click a button to secretly broadcast the incident in real-time to a selected network of friends, family and support workers, who can see their location and organise any necessary assistance. 

During a trial funded by the Australian Government, more than 400 community workers were able to respond to 3,000 alerts for help and all 100 of the StandbyU Shield users said it improved their wellbeing, while 93 per cent said it significantly increased their safety.

However, the fact governments need to trial such applications is a damning indictment on the increasing difficulties social care, law enforcement, healthcare and other public sector organisations are facing when trying to help and protect vulnerable citizens.

“Sadly, we’re seeing a dramatic increase in family, sexual violence and child safety offences and frontline staff are under more pressure than ever before,” says Brett Lightfoot, Microsoft’s regional business leader for government in Asia and state director for public sector in Queensland and Northern Territory, Australia.

“Child safety officers can be carrying up to three times the recommended caseloads, and it’s not unusual for a police officer to spend half of their shift dealing with domestic, family and child safety offences. This comes with additional documentation, reporting, referral management and other administrative burdens.”

This is restricting health and social organisations’ ability to deliver timely and high-quality services to vulnerable citizens. “Case workers are struggling to process the volume of information they have in order to triage and prioritise cases, which is limiting how quickly they can help people,” says Kenya McKenzie-Jones, senior industry advisor for worldwide public sector at Microsoft. “A post-pandemic world and the rising cost of living are intensifying the challenges people face, including mental health struggles and financial difficulties. This is further increasing demand on services.”

All these challenges are compounded by a “crushing lack of human resources”, says Andy Pitman, US director for health and human services at Microsoft. “People join the health and social care sector because they want to help others, but when they’re facing such immense pressure and so many operational challenges, they become frustrated and leave,” he says. “Many organisations are struggling to fill empty roles, which further increases the burden on the remaining employees and makes it difficult to deliver helpful services in a timely manner.”

PS feature spokespeople

From left: Microsoft’s Brett Lightfoot, Kenya McKenzie-Jones and Andy Pitman

Transforming with technology

One of the biggest challenges is that many organisations are still using custom legacy platforms built on decades-old hardware and software that is no longer fully supported, says Pitman. “While these platforms are still somewhat functional and have been modernised in places, they are complex, siloed and expensive to maintain,” he explains. “They are also very inflexible, so they’re difficult to update when new operational processes, policies or industry regulations are introduced. Instead, organisations should look to use cloud-based systems and low-code/no-code platforms such as Microsoft Power Platform and Dynamics 365 because they’re continually updated, easily scalable and very secure.”

The Department of Health and Welfare (DHW) in Idaho, USA, for example, has streamlined administrative processes and significantly improved case management by implementing a cloud-based child welfare system built on Dynamics 365 and Power Platform. Developed and implemented in collaboration with Deloitte, the new platform enables the DHW to make data-driven decisions and deliver services more effectively, while ensuring it complies with regulatory standards. “The solution is delivering outstanding results,” says Pitman. “It has reduced operational costs, given the DHW the flexibility to scale as demand grows and freed up capacity for case workers to focus on families.”

Another key technology at the forefront of reducing the administrative burden on workers is artificial intelligence.

“Research suggests people should spend 70 per cent of their time working directly with the client and 30 per cent on back-office support work, but most are doing the reverse,” says McKenzie-Jones. “Workers are being inundated with basic administrative tasks and held back by time-consuming paper-based processes and siloed legacy IT systems. Technologies such as AI and Microsoft Power Apps can automate data entry, reporting and more, which reduces errors in documents, accelerates the process of triaging cases, and frees up workers to focus on tasks that require human-to-human interaction. This means citizens get the right help much quicker than in the past.” 

Generative AI-powered solutions like Microsoft Copilot can help case workers quickly and accurately determine whether an individual is eligible for the service they have requested. “To make a decision, case workers must collect and analyse data from multiple disparate sources and Copilot can help them to quickly surface all the information they need from within hundreds or thousands of documents,” says Pitman. “We’re already helping one mid-sized US county government to do this.”

Alternatively, generative AI-powered chatbots can provide self-service channels for citizens to determine their own eligibility. For example, citizens in one US state will soon be able to use a chatbot named Priya to get fast and reliable answers about the SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Access Program) food benefits programme. “Priya has been developed by YoungWilliams using Azure OpenAI Service and pre-implementation tests have shown it provides faster and more accurate answers than its human counterparts,” says Pitman. “It will significantly improve the citizens’ experience and free-up call centre employees to work on more complex cases. Priya could easily be adapted to work with different health and social care programmes in future.”

SNAP food benefits

A chat bot developed by YoungWilliams uses Azure OpenAI Service to provide information quickly about food benefits (image credit: iStock/napabapa)

AI is also pivotal in helping to facilitate equitable access to public health resources for everyone in the community. For example, Japanese firm Aisin has used multiple Azure AI solutions to develop a speech-to-text tool that helps people with hearing difficulties to communicate with others. Meanwhile in India, government-backed research group AI4Bharat has developed a generative AI-driven chatbot named Jugalbandi to break the language barriers preventing most of the population from accessing multiple government assistance programmes. Now, citizens can send a text or audio message to Jugalbandi via WhatsApp, which uses tools including Azure OpenAI Service to retrieve information on relevant government schemes and relay it back to the citizen in their own language.

“AI bridges the digital divide by helping organisations to adapt service delivery to suit the individual needs of every end-user,” says Lightfoot. “For example, AI can automatically convert a website with complex text into a more easily digestible format, such as audio, to make it accessible for a person living with a disability.”

Prioritising people with coordinated care

Implementing technologies such as AI, automation and the cloud is helping health and social care providers to achieve a long-held aspiration: deliver coordinated, human-centric care.

“Care is often supplied in silos that represent the agencies and community service providers delivering the services,” says Lightfoot. “By putting the client at the centre and revolving the services around them, we can dramatically improve both the efficiency of delivering services and the citizen experience. AI can then proactively engage service providers to help bring the right service at the right time.”;

Multi-agency collaboration is a key enabler in delivering person-centred care, helping organisations to understand how the social determinants of health (non-medical factors that influence health outcomes) could impact the type of care a person needs.

“People often have coincident needs – for example, someone who lives in poor housing is more likely to need medical assistance and help with food and utilities,” says Pitman. “Rather than trying to solve a single challenge for an individual, it’s more effective to look at their situation holistically and try to identify and resolve the root cause of all the problems. Technology enables us to do this by allowing real-time data sharing between all the agencies involved in delivering care to individuals.”

Aberdeen City Council in Scotland, UK, has deployed Dynamics 365 Customer Service to enable social workers to rapidly assess vulnerable citizens’ individual needs, coordinate with police officers and medical practitioners to develop a care plan, and leverage municipal aid to keep them safe and healthy. Individuals’ data is stored on a central database to provide all involved stakeholders with a unified overview of their needs, care history and more. Social workers can now assemble care reports within minutes, saving more than £2 million ($2.5 million) in labour costs per year and cutting the average handling time for a single case by 218 minutes. This has resulted in over 11,500 new referrals and 3,000 extra assessments being processed each year.  

Prevention is better than the cure

Having a joined-up system and holistic overview of every vulnerable individual will enable the sector to evolve from a reactive to a preventative health and social care model.

“The holy grail is for these organisations to be able to predict who is most at risk of falling victim to homelessness, domestic abuse, medical issues and more, so they can take proactive steps to intervene at an early stage,” says McKenzie-Jones. “This enables organisations to provide every individual with the right support at the right time, all while reducing costs and decreasing the burden on employees who can work more productively and focus on doing what they love most – helping people.”

Partner perspectives

We asked selected partners to share how they are using Microsoft technology to help health and social care providers deliver services and benefits to citizens in a more cost effective, efficient and personalised way.

“Healthcare providers want the tools to help them save time on routine tasks, so they have more capacity for essential tasks,” said Adrian Hodgson, senior director of global Alliances at Crestron. “Crestron provides Microsoft Teams-certified video conferencing tools to allow health and social care providers to schedule video calls for routine follow-up conversations and quick check ins, saving all parties involved valuable time.”

“By combining SAS’s analytics capabilities with Microsoft’s cloud infrastructure, we empower governments and organisations to optimise a wide range of social benefit programmes,” said Nicky Furlong, Northern Europe director for public sector health and life sciences at SAS. “Together, we use analytics and AI to erase the friction points between data, insights, and action, enabling efficient data management, real-time insights and predictive modelling.”

“Our intelligent data lifecycle management platform Health Bridge and its seamless integration with any cloud, including Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare, empowers healthcare stakeholders to efficiently store, analyse and synchronise extensive medical data across multiple locations without disrupting mission critical operations,” said Ivo Kanev, vice president of product for Tiger Health Technology. “The hybrid cloud approach we promote also reduces costs significantly, addressing the prohibitive expenses associated with traditional storage of healthcare data.”

“We run large call centres for government programmes, which are expensive, hard to operate efficiently, and always in need of more well-trained staff and money,” said Rob Wells, CEO of YoungWilliams. “Microsoft helped us develop an AI chatbot we call Priya, which can answer questions from the public in ways that only humans could in the past. Available to offer instant assistance 24 hours a day, 365 days per year, Priya has the potential to provide the same level of service as an unlimited pool of trained workers.”

Read more from these partners in the Spring 2024 issue of Technology Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription.

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