Blogs 28.04.2024

Understanding older people's perspectives on sharing their Activity Monitoring Data with Social Care Services

Social care services are embedding more data-driven technologies, such as remote monitoring, to support the increase in service demand and utilise limited resources, but how do people feel about this being a part of their care? To answer this, SCRiPT fellow Chris Metcalf explored older people’s attitudes towards sharing activity monitoring data with social care services.


Chris Metcalf is a County Manager in the Assistive Technology team at Norfolk County Council. He is also part of the NIHR-funded Social Care Research in Practice Teams (SCRiPT) project, which aims to develop a culture of research and embed evidence-based practice in adult social care in Norfolk and Hertfordshire Council.

I have worked in social care for 29 years across different services, including learning disability, mental health and other teams. In 2005, I joined the then newly formed Norfolk County Council Assistive Technology team and I have managed the team for the past ten years. During this time, we have grown tremendously from eight to 30.

I have been fortunate to be able to undertake two academic degrees in assistive technology during my time at Norfolk County Council. Since my master's, I have been interested in pursuing more research opportunities, like the two-year Social Care Research in Practice Teams (SCRiPT) programme. Through the SCRiPT study, I received funding for two and a half days per week to undertake a project focusing on improving social care. For this, I knew I wanted to focus on assistive technology, which is a relatively new and evolving discipline that we are using more in social services. However, there are gaps in research knowledge. 

“The SCRiPT study has been a really rewarding experience. The training and academic support have allowed myself and my SCRiPT peers the opportunity to edge further along the tightrope of research practice, especially knowing we have a constant safety net of support!”

Chris Metcalf, SCRiPT Fellow & County Manager, Norfolk County Council

How much will you share for care?

The UK Government has recommended that social care services utilise more data-driven technologies to inform proactive and preventative support, such as activity monitoring devices (door opening sensors and electric appliance usage sensors) to support vulnerable adults to live independently at home. While the technology has been used since the early 2000’s, sharing data into services is a newer proposition, as it would have previously been sent to an agreed-upon informal care network.

There are benefits to social care utilising data from remote activity monitoring technology, but can the advancement of using technology to monitor a person’s wellbeing become invasive in a person’s private life? How do people feel about this? In order for activity monitoring data technology to be effective, it is essential to understand the advantages and disadvantages, as well as people's perceptions. However, I was not able to find any evidence of this, so to address this gap in knowledge, my SCRiPT project explored older people's perceptions of sharing activity monitoring data with social care services. The aim was to raise awareness of care technology and increase trust in this system to inform service delivery best practices.

My project was shaped by three experts with experience who attended monthly meetings and supported me in designing the interview questions. I have interviewed 15 older people with experience in social care services and asked them for their thoughts on sharing this information with family members and social care services. We also asked what they felt services needed to consider when using this technology.

Will technology replace the human touch?

We have found that there are concerns that this technology will be used to minimise other forms of social care and that they will lose human contact, such as visits from domiciliary care workers and family carers who may rely on this technology as a replacement for social and welfare check visits. However, equally, this technology could point to the necessity of more human contact from family and/or social care workers.

“One of the MOST important activities that older people look forward to is the 'visit' daily (or other) of a human being, with whom one may have a chat, a smile, and this is NON replaceable.” 

Anonymous, Study Participant

“It’s possible that the family member just uses this equipment to keep an eye on their loved one, and then this excuses them from popping across to see them and see how they are.” 

Anonymous, Study Participant

Other research has voiced concerns about this technology reducing a person to a set of statistical data and feeding their wellness into algorithms. There are issues around the security of this data and whether services have the capacity to take the time to understand a person’s needs and fit the technology as proportionately and appropriately as necessary.

“The more they know about me, the more able they are to support me, or know what support I really need, and can tailor it eventually.” 

Anonymous, Study Participant

“I don’t think you could just come along and say, ‘We are thinking of giving you this, this, and this; what do you think?" Well,  my first response, I think, would be, well, I think, I don’t want it, thank you. But if that person spent a little time talking to me, getting to know me, learning about me, and me about them. Its good relationship building really, so you develop a level of trust.” 

Anonymous, Study Participant

Next steps

I am currently exploring publishing this research and I will be contacting social care services across the region to raise awareness of my findings. I am glad to have already incorporated the research findings into current departmental planning about our future technology-enabled care offer, so research into practice is happening!

As the SCRiPT programme comes to an end after two years, I see the continuation of more research by myself in this area as of great benefit to social care practice. I will encourage my work colleagues to look at future research opportunities and I also hope to remain connected to the NIHR and ARC East of England to learn about relevant research to inform our service practice.