It is expected that by 2025, telecom companies such as BT will have switched off their analogue telephone network and transferred all their customers over to a digital network: “IP Voice”.
With this approaching deadline, local authorities and other public sector organisations associated with the implementation of telecare must now prepare for the transition to digital. To help this preparation, we have identified a number of key questions to ask service providers to ensure the change to digital telecare is seamless.
Although based on established digital technologies, the market for digital telecare solutions is still in its infancy. As suppliers and organisations are still testing their solutions, there is only a small sample of completed studies to provide evidence of benefits and best practice. The first step before switching to digital telecare is to check with suppliers that they have completed testing on their product and that it can be delivered to an appropriate timescale and budget. In addition to product completion, there are also potential issues with compatibility, meaning that it is necessary to check that an alarm box from ‘supplier A’ will work with alarm receiving software from ‘supplier B’ after the switch to digital.
Whilst analogue solutions generally operate as standalone and seldom connect into wider IT systems, the implementation of digital telecare is likely to require much closer integration with other services. This could involve a number of considerations, including the supply of the Internet connection that alarm signals travel over, providing/configuring firewalls and servers, and even allocating phone lines. These are elements of the solution that your telecare supplier may assume that you’re delivering. As such, you need to be clear on what the supplier expects you to provide before you place an order. Above all else, make certain that you can supply what they are asking.
As a number of different parties will be working in conjunction to supply digital telecare solutions, it is vital to establish a single person/organisation with the responsibility to make sure the solution works end-to-end. By establishing a sole entity, the possibility of ‘finger-pointing’ if issues arise is minimised. Make sure you establish who has this role with your suppliers; otherwise, they may assume, by default, it is you. Consider as well that during the transition to digital solutions, any implementation to one part of the solution could have a knock-on effect on the rest of the system, meaning time and cost. For example, if you start buying an alarm box from a new supplier, keep in mind that the Alarm Receiving Centre (ARC) may need to be reconfigured to accommodate the new alarm box.
The transition from digital to analogue raises security issues that did not exist with analogue telecare. By its nature, digital telecare involves devices connecting to the Internet and using it to transmit user-related data. In addition to this, current digital telecare standards, such as the Swedish SCAIP, have known security concerns. However, no security risks are insurmountable, and if they are known, they can be managed. Issues with SCAIP are addressed by the new European standard (Cenelec TS 50134-9), but the availability of alarm devices supporting this standard is currently limited.
Before placing an order with a telecare provider, be sure that the supplier has done work to identify and address the security risks associated with their solution. In addition to this, always ask for evidence to demonstrate independent testing has been completed. Utilising this information will help you during the process of completing a data protection impact assessment (DPIA), enabling you to document, assess and manage the risks associated with digital telecare.
The process of moving users to digital solutions is likely to take time to complete, meaning that there will be a period of “parallel running” of analogue and digital telecare services. This is something that can cause complications at a technical and operational level meaning, for example, that legacy technologies and equipment need to be retained throughout the migration process, with a potential impact in terms of time, effort and cost. Before ordering, check that arrangements for dual running are understood and agreed.
Transitioning to digital is a significant undertaking, and for the best results, a long-term vision must be developed from the beginning. When considering your switch, remember that a digital solution must support your future needs, not just your current ones. These could include increasing user numbers or introducing new services and ways of working that take advantage of the range of benefits and efficiencies digital telecare offers. Examples include the potential for improvement in service, quality and outcomes for users, integration with telehealth, and use of users’ own smart devices.
At a more technical level, future-proofing should ensure your solution supports IP voice, as well as the new European Cenelec Standard. You can also ascertain whether the solution uses any older technologies and if so, the lifespan that these technologies have.
Local authorities and other organisations responsible for delivering telecare need to ensure they are comfortable that they have a robust plan for the move to digital, and that their suppliers are able to support this move, including having answers to the key considerations detailed here.
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