Six reasons to be optimistic that IT can help aged care reform

It was a pretty good turnout at Sydney’s Rosehill Gardens Racecourse this week for the annual ITAC conference, which was heavy on policy discussions surrounding the release of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety’s final report last year and the election of a new federal government this year that has made aged care reform one of its highest priorities.

That description would normally put the fear of god into the average punter but this year, something was different. Information technology in aged care is often one of the forgotten topics in the wider health IT and digital health sector, but in Australia at least, never has it been more important. And in our opinion, never before has there been such confidence that progress will actually be made in leveraging IT to assist in the fundamental reform of the aged care system.

As opposed to previous years, when project implementations, bright new ideas that never come to anything and the odd new product launch dominated, this year the fundamental reform of the whole system of residential aged and home care was the hot topic at ITAC. We didn’t hear much from aged care providers, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but we did hear a lot from public servants. In the past this would have made for a pretty dull experience but we were pleasantly surprised by the remarkable amount of useful information that was offered up.

Kicking it all off was NSW Minister for Customer Service and Digital Government Victor Dominello (pictured above with ACIITC chair George Margelis), who waxed fruitfully on all of the great stuff his department has done in digitising public services in NSW, including the digital driver’s licence, the digital baby blue book, the digital birth certificate, and the digital senior’s card. (He was also most impressed with the work his department has done on digitising car parking – affordable and available car parking of course being almost as important to a state government’s electoral hopes as health and education spending.)

While Mr Dominello didn’t go into great detail about it, what caught our ear was the idea of a patient app that he has apparently been mulling over. He told the Sydney Morning Herald about it a while back although he has kept his cards close to his chest since then and no one else seems to be in the loop. We now understand that there is a lot that he can’t say about its potential due to the iron grip that NSW Health holds over the release of anything like useful information, but it seems that in addition to basic stuff like using existing data collected on emergency department waiting times and hospital car parking availability – there it is again – there are also moves afoot to allow the app to be used in future to book outpatients appointments, access eReferrals, and even download info from the My Health Record.

We can see where he’s going with this, particularly as the Australian Digital Health Agency is getting its act into gear for mobile MyHR apps, but he was a bit circumspect in his speech. He hit all the right notes though on his insistence that it should be the customer – or consumer or client or patient or whatever you want to call it – who controls who sees their information and how.

We think this might actually go somewhere, which comes as a bit of a shock. We also think there are very good signs that the digital health sector can have a measurable impact on aged care. Here’s why:

1. The bureaucracy The bureaucrats finally seem to be getting it, and are on side. We were unexpectedly impressed with a presentation from DoHAC’s Fay Flevaras, first assistant secretary for digital transformation and delivery for aged care reform. Ms Flevaras has only been in the position for nine months but has already secured money to dump some of the old client and provider management systems for new, contemporary systems from Salesforce. And her colleague Thea Connolly, first assistant secretary at DoHAC’s reform implementation division, acknowledged that digital transformation was vital to everything her division was hoping to achieve.

2. The money There is real money on the table. This includes money put out there by ADHA to ensure resident care management and medication management systems are compliant with contemporary standards, as well as grant money from DoHAC for residential aged care providers to implement these systems. Much more needs to be spent on upskilling care workers in digital literacy, of course, but no one is on their own there.

3. The standards ADHA is taking aged care very seriously, and has developed a two-year program of work in response to the Royal Commission’s recommendation 68 on universal adoption of My Health Record. While aged care uptake of the system is very much a longer term prospect, ADHA is working with the vendors on interoperability and with the Digital Health CRC and DoHAC on standards, so there is real reason for hope. (Might take a while, though.)

4. The vendors The vendors are keen. Aged care software has been the metaphorical hobbit hole of cottage industries in the past, but the big and little guys were out in force at ITAC. The dominant clinical and resident management vendors like Telstra Health, Leecare, AutumnCare, Health Metrix, Civica, Manad Plus and AlayaCare were joined by all of the big nurse call system and telehealth vendors and quite a lot of innovative new players. Aged care’s reputation for lagging a bit on technological trends was clear as many of the new product launches were about apps that nurses and personal care assistants can use at the bedside, but the fact that pretty big firms like TechnologyOne, Salesforce and Lexmark were prominent also says a lot.

5. The vibe There was a great deal of good will that reform can be achieved. It has always been the case that those in aged care do it for the love of it, but there did seem to be a general vibe that things were going in the right direction, mainly due to points one and two above.

6. The media So confident are we at Pulse+IT that there will be real movement in the aged, community and disability care sectors this year that we are going to launch a special ACDC technology newsletter in the next couple of weeks. We’ll send it out on Mondays along with our regular New Zealand edition, so if you have any news about developments in aged or community care IT, let us know. We’ll initially send it out to all of our 19,000 subscribers but if you aren’t really interested in the sector, you can update your subscription preferences at the bottom of each eNews to opt out.

We are genuinely convinced that the time is ripe for change in aged care and that progress will actually, finally, happen. A lot of that has to do with the work that the Aged Care Industry IT Council has done since independent chair George Margelis took charge. Dr Margelis is an indefatigable proponent for digital health in general, but we reckon his work in aged care might be his crowning glory. Well done, George.

That brings us to our poll question for the week:

Does NSW’s patient app sound suspiciously like a good idea?

Vote here or leave your comments below.

In our last poll, we asked: Will improvements in eReferrals have a measurable impact on GP workflow?

Three quarters said yes, but 25 per cent said no. Here’s what else you said.

Tags: ITAC 2022

Comments  

0 # Kate McDonald 2022-07-22 14:21
Does NSW’s patient app sound suspiciously like a good idea? Absolutely, according to 95 per cent of respondents to our poll. We also asked why you chose yes or no. Here’s what you said:

- It is a start for patient centred, value driven care in Australia.

- Good idea for patients

- Clinicians have their clinical information systems to support them and patients have their smartphones. We need an Australian Health app, like the one the NHS has built and which they aim for 75% of the adult population to use NHS App by 2024. A NSW patient app is a good first step.

- But is it the Nsw version of one stop shop for clinical trials patient database?

- Other countries already have this We are behind the eight ball

- Provided it is built well and consumers do have control over their information then it should drive a big increase in usage and start to bring healthcare into the age of smart phones and personal data control

- As well as improving safety and convenience for users with urgent or emergent medical issues, this initiative could take some pressure off emergency departments. If it gets integrated with Healthdirect's triage and medical assistance services, even greater efficiencies will flow from it.

- It will meet a real consumer need, not something the government wants consumers to use

- If it works as well as service NSW app.

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