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How to improve home care services for the elderly through innovative quantitative methods?

How to improve home care services for the elderly through innovative quantitative methods?

This is the goal of the research project by Jesica de Armas, a lecturer with the UPF Department of Economics and Business, funded under the first call for Social Research of the "la Caixa” Foundation.



Jessica de Armas, a lecturer of the UPF Department of Economics and Business and a researcher with the Business Analytics Research Group (BARG), is conducting a research project that focuses on optimizing sustainable home care services for people over 65 in Spain, a body that is forecast to account for 25% of the population by 2033.

The social urgency of a growing elderly population: Building sustainable home care services” (EPHoCaS), which began three months ago, will be conducted over two years and is endowed with funding of 100,000 euros. It comes under the first call for Social Researchby the "la Caixa" Foundation (a second call has been recently opened), which selected a total of thirteen projects (from more than 500 entries), all ongoing.

The aim of the project by Jesica Armas is to improve sustainable home care services for the elderly through innovative quantitative methods applied to problems of logistics and the supply chain in the area: new mathematical models, algorithms and systems based on operations research and data analysis.

“My project seeks to help those responsible for making decisions in this area, home care policy makers and managers, to make better decisions, which result in a positive impact on society in terms of health, the social benefit and cost effectiveness”, the researcher states. This becomes even more important with the coronavirus crisis and the problems that have arisen as a result of its management.

Towards an integrated, effective healthcare model

Current home care services for the elderly in Spain are mainly provided by two independent organizations: the health system and social services organizations. However, Jesica de Armas wonders whether it is sustainable for the health system and social services to work in parallel and independently: “Obviously, a more effective model of integrated healthcare should be possible”, she assures.

The UPF researcher advocates a new combined model consisting of reorganizing and jointly coordinating the health system and social care for the elderly that improves interactions, solves conflicts, and integrates the two. “The integrated home care model is proposed as a care model in which the different health and social care professionals act together, share information and goals and make coordinated decisions to ensure integrated care at home”, the researcher explains.

A growing ageing population in need of social care at home

In Spain, the ageing process has been particularly rapid, accentuated by the country's low birth rate in recent decades. Current data show that the proportion of the population over 65 years of age stands at 19%, i.e., about 9 million people, of whom approximately 3 million are over 80. The over 65s will account for more than 25% of the population by 2033, i.e., almost 12 million people, of whom about 4 million will be over 80. 

However, some elderly people live in poor conditions or even die as a result of inadequate or inappropriate home care. Thus, the cost associated with home care services is high and continues to grow (only in Barcelona, these costs have risen from 53 million euros in 2015 to 84 million in 2018, according to the Home Care Services), and resources are limited.

“Specialized social care services at home and home health care are a good response to this need to maintain the quality of life of the elderly and enable them to continue living at home, but they require optimizing”, Jesica de Armas asserts. The researcher is conducting her work under the “Operations Research for Social Good” line within the Business Analytics Research Group (BARG), coordinated by full professor Helena Ramalhinho.

In this context, a BARG project entitled "Improving caregivers mobility: Methodology to improve health management and social care at home using advanced algorithms and mathematics", has been one of the eight projects selected (out of 31 proposals submitted), within the scope of the Crida Repte Crida 2019 for Improving comprehensive home health and social care, coordinated by Helena Ramalhinho, is part of Programa Impacte of the Center for the Integration of Medicine and Innovative Technologies in Catalonia (CIMTI).

The second Social Research call of the “la Caixa” Foundation launched

The “la Caixa” Foundation has recently launched its second call for Social Research projects, endowed with a total of 1.5 million euros and open for submissions (until 20 May) for researchers from universities and research centres in Spain and Portugal.

It will provide support to 15 social projects in all disciplines that provide knowledge and help understand the most pressing emerging challenges. It aims to study new social phenomena, some of which have emerged from the pandemic, involving global consequences that affect all areas of our lives.




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