The federal government’s Budget injection of $18 billion to better support home care and free up staff to spend more time with residents in care is a welcome one.
But this investment is the start of the conversation, not the conclusion. We need to ensure these funds deliver tangible outcomes for all aged Australians, particularly the one in three people in aged care estimated to be experiencing neglect or abuse.
One of the aims of this investment is that, by 2023, aged-care residents will receive at least three hours and 20 minutes of staff interaction. However, staff shortages will be a major challenge; it is expected that an additional one million aged-care roles will be needed by 2050 to service the needs of an ageing population with increased life expectancy.
Attracting more people to work in aged care is important, but it can’t be the only answer. As the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety report notes, in 2019, there were 4.2 working-age people for every Australian aged 65 years or over, but by 2058, this is expected to decrease to 3.1. The maths of having a smaller talent pool to fill more positions simply doesn’t add up.
On top of that, there’s the fact that Australia is a big country with a small population and older Australians are less likely than the general population to live in major cities. So, the need for access to aged-care services is spread across areas that are not always well serviced for healthcare and other support services.
Technological innovation is going to need to carry the burden of addressing many of these issues.
Aged care is about people, not buildings
In the year from the start of the COVID-19 pandemic until March 2021, Australian medical professionals conducted 52.9 million telehealth appointments. While the primary purpose of this shift to telehealth was to contain the spread, it proved a leap forward in how Australians use technology to manage their health and hints at what we can achieve in the aged-care sector by embracing the digital and virtual.
Of course, phone or video consultations are just the tip of what technology can enable but, just as there are some types of consultations better served in a face-to-face setting (what that rash is, for instance) than a telehealth one, there are a range of virtual care opportunities that can complement the face-to-face services. Hybrid clouds and the Internet of Things mean that instead of the patient coming to the carer, care can now come to the patient.
For instance, a virtual assistant that can interact with people in their homes provides a cost-effective way to ensure they are taking medication, building healthy habits or monitoring their vitals, with the ability to easily escalate to an appropriate healthcare professional when required. This provides people the independence of staying in their own homes for longer, reducing the demand for places at aged-care facilities. It also lets them stay in their communities longer if facilities are not locally available.
Simplifying the work
One of the ambitions of the federal government’s investment in aged care is that carers will be able to spend more time with those in their care. The simplest way to make that happen is to eliminate as much of the non-client-facing work as possible.
For instance, the staff in an aged-care facility may currently spend a portion of their shift taking paper-based notes on the care provided to each resident that day and then handing over to their teammates on the next shift. If they can instead quickly input that information to a resident’s profile via an app as they work, then the staff on the next shift can access that and other relevant historical data quickly, which not only improves the quality of information on each patient but frees staff to deliver personal care.
Data is the best medicine
For innovation like the above to deliver the best outcome, it’s not just about the tech in the hands of the patient or carer, but the systems and infrastructure that underpin it.
Having to fill in similar paperwork for each new institutional encounter is tiresome for recipients and their families, and it also leads to incomplete information, especially if they’re relying on human memory. Secure universal digitisation, systems interoperability and data integration across the sector will improve communication and lead to better outcomes for those in their care.
More meaningful data will also drive informed, measurable decisions, especially as the sector can increasingly call on AI and machine learning to uncover insights that might not be readily discovered through human analysis alone. And with cloud services increasingly able to deliver compute intensive projects such as AI, the costs of engaging this technology will go down and it will also be available no matter where patients or facilities are located.
Simplifying digital transformation
With much of the aged population living outside major cities, changing the way we fund and support the digital transformation of aged care is a key consideration to how we support them. If care is going to happen in the communities in which people live, as-a-service offerings, such as Dell Technologies APEX, simplify how organisations consume and manage technology. Resources no longer need to be concentrated in big city hubs.
It means resources can scale up or down in response to the shifting needs in the community. Consumption-based technology also addresses the challenge of finding the right tech skills, especially in regional areas, in an increasingly competitive market. According to RMIT and Deloitte Access Economics, Australia will need 156,000 more digital technology workers by 2025 to meet demands.
With organisations able to leave the deployment, ongoing management and support, and implementation of upgrades with providers such as Dell Technologies, it not only frees them from having to find those skills themselves, but it also means head count can be skewed towards those who spend face-to-face time with those in their care.
The Royal Commission recommended that Australia needs to put people at the centre of aged care. The way we do that is by investing in the smart, accessible and innovative technology. Dell Technologies APEX is simplifying digital transformation with an end-to-end as-a-service solution, making it easier for organisations to scale up and down as needed and only pay for the resources they use with flexible consumption.