During the Covid-19 pandemic many people were suddenly reminded how fragile their own health can be. Yet, what has been widely overlooked is how the situation of vulnerable people changed, who are dependent on support from social care organizations, such as homeless people, people with psychiatric and/or addiction issues, sex workers, undocumented, and poor families.
Our research project ‘Vulnerable in Amsterdam’ funded by ZonMW gained insight into the consequences of the corona crisis for various vulnerable groups in the Amsterdam region by investigating how aid was provided and how it could be organized. Through being part of a consortium with four social care organizations we created an inventory of knowledge and experiences.
In our research which was published in the journal Technovation, we found that many social care organizations and their partners faced the challenge to collectively provide care to vulnerable people during the crisis, however, without being allowed to see them in person due to physical-distancing regulations by the government. In consequence, these organizations had to deal with questions such as: How can we continue our work while maintaining physical distance, and what online options do we have that could help realize this? Most social care organizations started adopting digital technologies, often referred to as ‘e-health’. While on a large scale this went well, our research demonstrated that there was also a need to make certain improvements.
Qualitative research methods
We studied the transition towards digital technology by three social care organizations inductively. Within these three organizations we have conducted observations during site visits and interviewed employees from different backgrounds and functional levels, such as: social workers, doctors, managers, and also their clients. We compared the insights that emerged from the three different social care organizations, to generate theoretical and practical implications, which helps us to explain how different factors influence the digital technology adoption process.
Instead of viewing crises as disruptive to the organization, we advise to view crises as an opportunity that could encourage a new way of working, like using e-health.
Steps to adopt e-health
For organizations that want to adopt e-health or other digital technologies, particularly during crisis situations, we offer some practical recommendations. The first recommendation is that instead of viewing crises as disruptive to the organization, we advise to view crises as an opportunity that could encourage a new way of working, like using e-health. Even if the crisis had a disruptive effect, if innovative solutions are just being used as a quickfix, opportunities for more thorough renewal are forgone. A sustained use of new technology requires professional identities to be reshaped and to develop a shared vision in the organization that embraces new technology. For example, organizations can promote a shared vision that improves the quality of care by addressing clients’ digital needs, while also encouraging more freedom of choice for clients.
Most social care professionals have strong professional identities as care givers, often influenced by their organizational history based on religion or activism. Each organization struggled with the introduction of e-health, influenced by this professional identity which typically stressed a need for in-person contact with their clients. That is why our second recommendation emphasizes the need for organizations to develop a vision and strategy, which stimulates the adoption of e-health. This vision and strategy should couple technological innovation with employees’ professional identity, like in the slogan “e-health with a heart”. Otherwise, reactions towards the introduction of e-health will have limited or even negative effects.
Organizations need to develop a vision and strategy, which stimulates the adoption of e-health.
The third recommendation is to involve champions who can stimulate the innovation process. Champions are people who have affinity with the change and are enthusiastic about it. Involving them to experiment, to educate employees and clients, and to spread enthusiasm, in a way that is in alignment with employees’ professional identity, could bring the organization closer to successfully adopting e-health.
Involve champions who can stimulate the innovation process.