Reducing costs and empowering citizens with help from IBM Watson Health

Tasked with reducing its social services budget by millions of pounds over four years, Harrow Council wanted to expand its My Community ePurse (MCeP) personal budget management solution.

Harrow Council anticipates using the IBM® Watson® Care Manager platform to add a healthcare component to its MCeP solution and make it available to a larger audience. The new offering can provide more comprehensive and actionable information to service users, service providers and health and care professionals.

Business benefits:

  • expects to empower citizens to improve their health and well-being by giving them access to services tailored to their needs
  • anticipates integrating care with a comprehensive view of social and health services needs so that citizens receive coordinated, tailored care
  • expects to reduce costs further by encouraging more competition among service providers.

“Communities all over the world can benefit from this. It’s a revolutionary game-changer for health and social care.”
—Bernie Flaherty, Director of Adult Social Services, Harrow Council

The IBM Watson Care Manager platform and the IBM team’s commitment to enabling care managers to improve outcomes enabled Flaherty and her team to add health services to the MCeP programme. The solution also supported Harrow Council’s efforts to expand the solution to a much larger audience, including self-funded service users. Flaherty estimates that adding self-funded users to the portal will grow the number of participants in Harrow from 1,000 to over 20,000.3 Harrow Council used the IBM Design Thinking framework for development, which helps guide companies design solutions that can grow and adapt as their needs change. Harrow Council representatives attending the session described the experience with the Design Thinking team members as invaluable. Says one attendee, “They were coming up with really innovative, new ideas. For example, they suggested that we build in a feedback mechanism so that we’d be prepared when a service user wouldn’t need home care because a family member would be staying for the week. Things like that.”

Flaherty adds: “They also led a workshop for our service providers, which gave the providers a great opportunity to voice their ideas and views. Every session with IBM Design Thinking helped us improve the solution further.”

A key part of the design was bringing the healthcare component to the offering, and Harrow Council anticipates that this work will help take the solution to the next level in terms of potential benefits to customers and savings for the council.

Flaherty explains: “GPs [general practitioners] are allocated an average of eight to ten minutes with each patient. When they’re with a patient talking about their well-being, they can’t know everything that’s going on in that patient’s life. But if you have a platform that can find all of the pertinent details in that patient’s life, reading 200 million pages of text in three seconds5, that can make a world of difference.” For example, taking a diabetes patient’s vital signs and running lab tests only provides the GP with a small part of the patient’s health picture. Harrow Council envisions a scenario in which the GP also has a dashboard view of the social services side of the patient’s health: perhaps the patient has been refusing visits from a home care provider and was hospitalised twice in the past three months. Both behaviours could point to depression, which is common among diabetes patients. With help from the MCeP expanded programme that Harrow Council foresees, the patient and the GP could work together using social prescribing to identify services to improve the patient’s mental health, facilitate depression management and potentially avoid hospitalisation.

Better health, lower costs

With the launch on the horizon, Harrow Council is looking forward to the benefits of the expanded MCeP solution. One of the most striking advantages Flaherty has seen with the MCeP programme— and anticipates seeing on a larger scale when the additional MCeP products are rolled out—is more tailored delivery of social services including preventative support options.

She recalls a Harrow citizen who suffered from several conditions and was confined to a wheelchair. In his youth, the citizen was an active, outdoorsy person who loved being in nature. However, his health had forced him to rely on a home care service that operated on its own schedule, not his, and allowed little support for outdoor recreation. He was extremely unhappy and frequently hospitalised as a result.

Using MCeP, the citizen was able to spend part of his budget on a personal assistant who gave him regular opportunities to get outside and enjoy nature. This simple change brought joy back to the man’s life, which is likely to help reduce his hospitalisations and improve his mental and physical wellbeing. Says Flaherty, “I’ve got dozens of stories like that, stories about how MCeP has absolutely changed a person’s life.” The number of stories, she notes, is expected to grow exponentially as the council expands the solution to include more Harrow residents.

By adding the healthcare component to the MCeP solution, Harrow Council intends to empower healthcare providers in a similar way. GPs will get a more comprehensive picture of their patients, which they can consider when making decisions and recommendations about patients’ health.

For example, a patient with several long-term conditions may be taking a range of medications. If the patient presents with an additional illness, the best medication for the presenting illness may not necessarily be the best treatment for the individual, when considering interactions with existing medicines. This is where the power of Watson comes in: Watson is designed to help GPs take their patients’ medical histories and prescribed treatments into account when determining the best new medications to prescribe.

Since Harrow Council first implemented MCeP, it has already seen year-on-year savings across its adult social care budgets of GBP 1 million. Flaherty expects the new IBM Watson platform, incorporating the council’s expanded MCeP solution, to reduce costs even further by enabling care workers to optimise people’s health and well-being by offering GPs preventative options, reducing visits to hospitals and emergency rooms and driving competition among service providers.

And that’s something she wants to see happen all over the world. “We’re developing something that’s across health care and social care, pulling in prevention and social prescribing, social capital and interoperability. Communities all over the world can benefit from this,” she says. “It’s a revolutionary game-changer for health and social care.”