The healthcare sector must make the most of new technological advances like electronic patient records to build “networks of care” for elderly people and reduce demand on formal care providers, an independent charity has said.

Innovation charity Nesta has released an investment report, ‘Who Cares?’, which focuses on how technology can be used to increase the supply and improve the efficiency of unpaid “informal care” provided to the elderly by their friends and family.

Nesta estimates that more than nine million older people could need informal care from their friends and family in ten years’ time, and says there is “a significant market opportunity” to use technology as a means of improving access to care.

“Care will always need to be delivered by people but technology is the tool to bring together individuals, communities and healthcare professionals to build ‘networks of care’ – putting the individual at the centre and building effective support around them,” says the report.

The report identifies four areas of opportunity for technological innovation: communication tools to increase social interaction and reduce isolation, platforms to engage potential informal carers from the community, care management tools to build networks of support, and tools to improve integration between individuals, informal carers and formal care providers.

It says one of the main problems is the large number of different people who can be involved in an elderly person’s care, such as informal carers and primary care, social care and voluntary sector providers, and the lack of communication between them.

Developing tools to improve information sharing and communication, such as a platform allowing GPs to update the network of carers on medicine adherence, can help to improve care management and reduce the need for more expensive formal care at a later stage, the report says.

The report says EPR systems are opening up opportunities to increase information sharing, by allowing patients to share their health data with their carers and other organisations.

It says companies and organisations need to consider the “tech literacy” of the elderly when developing these tools, while the ownership, security and privacy of any data being shared must also be considered.

Nesta impact investment director Joe Ludlow said making good use of technology is key to avoiding the “looming crisis” of the UK’s aging population.

“Now is the time for impact investors to engage with this serious social need, which is also a significant economic opportunity,” said Ludlow.