DiCo – Digital Companion for Care Facilities

Juliane Zirke Senior UX Designer

Sofie Kalinke UX Designer

22/03/2022 • minutes reading time

New digital technology can make carers’ everyday work easier and reduce strain. However, this is currently often purchased without suitable corresponding processes.

The result? Low acceptance of poorly conceptualized technologies and a low perception of use value.

The DiCo research project has set its sights on these challenges. Within the project, a digital assistance system is being developed to systematically guide healthcare facilities through the process of digital transformation in a needs-oriented way.

1. Why is digitization important in care settings and what obstacles are there?

A usual morning at a care home in Germany: Care staff use their tablet to document a resident’s health status. At the same time, they get a notification on their smartwatch: a resident in the next room has fallen! A colleague quickly comes to the man’s aid and checks whether everything is alright. The carer then calls a transport robot to bring the man his breakfast. After his tumble, he doesn’t want to eat in the dining room and would rather rest in his room a little.

The use of this and other technology in care settings is no longer the stuff of utopian fantasy. However, digitization is still in its infancy, and many care facilities are asking themselves: how can we identify suitable technology and integrate it into our own work processes?

A survey of 456 people from the care sector has shown that 30 percent of those asked would expect the use of modern technology to result in more time for actual care work and less stress (New quality of work initiative (2018, March)). However, a high proportion of participants instead fear negative consequences of digitization, such as staff lay-offs and more (performance) checks. These concerns among care staff are based on the fact that the decision to purchase new technology is often made impulsively by management alone. Digitization is hereby reduced to individual technologies and not understood as a process of organizational transformation. This means that the impacts of technology on structures and processes throughout the whole organization are neglected, and employee skill development not sufficiently promoted.

2. What is the DiCo research project about?

The “Digital Companion for Intelligent Advice and Interactive Experience” research project - or DiCo for short - is about tackling these problems and supporting care facilities through the systematic and participative introduction of technology. An AI-based assistance system guides the facility through the four phases of the digital transformation process. In the “orientation and sensitization” phase, employees are sensitized for digital transformation and a digitization strategy is developed. In the “analysis and planning” phase, the facility’s needs and specific requirements are analyzed. Based on this, DiCo then suggests suitable technologies and presents the pros and cons along with training requirements. In the last two phases, DiCo supports the care facility in introducing and, finally, evaluating suitable technologies.

Visual Design Report 2022: New trends and creative ideas at Ergosign
DiCo offers care facilities long-term added value.

3. What added value is created by user-centered design processes and methods?

To make DiCo a reality, experts from the worlds of healthcare, labor science, telemedicine, artificial intelligence and user experience have all come together. Ergosign is responsible for realizing a collaborative, human-centered development approach as well as designing the user interface.

Logos of the DiCo consortium partners: Ergosign, ITA, Bavarian Red Cross, ddn, Ökumenische Sozialstation, ZTM, Saaleufer, Zana, Caritas
The consortium partners in the DiCo research project.

The development of DiCo requires close collaboration among project partners. In scoping workshops at the beginning of the project, the task at hand was discussed and information about existing processes and benefits gathered. To achieve a deep understanding of the current processes and problems, we then carried out interviews with representatives from the facilities involved.

Customer Journey at DiCo.
The User Journey Map shows the process of integrating new technologies in care settings.

When it comes to digitization status, there are major differences between care facilities. As a result, DiCo should be able to approach user needs in a context-sensitive manner.

It also became clear that many users are coming into the process with varying levels of technical affinity as well as different attitudes and equipment. Furthermore, it is important that DiCo takes various user roles into account.

Persona at DiCo: Pia nursing staff
Persoana at DiCo: Ian IT contact persona
Two examples of personas created at the start of the project.

Two examples of personas created at the start of the project.

DiCo should therefore understand users and their individual needs, and stand by them in an advisory capacity throughout the digital transformation process. But how specifically can artificial intelligence provide support? To be able to answer this question, we carried out an AI service blueprint workshop with our project partners.

The AI service blueprint serves as a “living artefact”, where it is easy to see which steps users are currently taking in DiCo, and where artificial intelligence can be of support.

Based on the blueprint, the requirements for the first MVP (minimum viable product) - the first minimally functional iteration of DiCo - were defined. During the course of the project, the blueprint was constantly developed and also used as a reference for subsequent MVPs. Consequently, the AI service blueprint serves as a channel to communicate the current development status among project partners.

Service Blueprint at DiCo.
The AI service blueprint serves as a basis for MVP definition.

Even in the first version of the MVP, the care facilities can begin to tackle strategic topics such as the creation of a vision for digitization in their setting. They can also enter which needs and topics are currently the most important for them regarding digitization. The resulting knowledge is then used as the cornerstones of the next development steps.

4. What next?

The research project will carry on running until mid 2023 - what next? We and our project partners asked ourselves this question, and defined the next goals in a workshop. For the next DiCo MVP, the goal is to further develop the artificial intelligence as well as the database of technology that DiCo can access. A chatbot is to support care facilities in identifying specific needs in their settings in the form of a dialog, and by suggesting suitable technologies.

Further development of DiCo and the chatbot in particular will also bring up many interesting design questions. Our UX design expertise can really make a valuable contribution to ensuring that DiCo creates added value for care facilities by offering support through digitization, making everyday life easier, reducing strain and ensuring a high level of care quality.

The project is still in its infancy. We are already looking forward to updating you.

For more information on DiCo, visit https://dico-pflege.de/.

Logo der Förderungen: Bundesminsterium für Arbeit und Sozials, INQA, Bauba

Addendum: The project on which this report is based was funded by the Federal Ministry for Work and Social Care under the funding code EXP.01.00002.20. The author is responsible for the content of this publication.