Investment in IT can lead to improved resident care

IT consulting and integration firm IT Integrity recently picked up the top award as the IT company of the year at the 2013 Information Technology in Aged Care (ITAC) conference for its work with Queensland aged care facility Star Gardens.

Star Gardens is a small aged care facility located in Beaudesert, south of Brisbane, but it has very big plans. When CEO Nigel Faull joined the company in 2007, Star Gardens wanted to increase the number of beds from 53 to 78, and the number of staff from 85 to 110.

However, its financial situation was not in great shape. So in 2008, Star Gardens undertook a review of its strategic plan and organisational structure, and as part of that identified IT as one way of improving things. At the time, Mr Faull said, the only IT system the facility used was its accounting package.

Mr Faull and his management team then developed an IT research and development plan and spent the next year or two investigating multiple IT systems, visiting other similar sized aged care facilities and researching how different technologies might assist in its aim of improving staff workload and job satisfaction.

Assisting in all of this was IT Integrity, a full-service IT company that not only does consulting and project management, but also system design, integration and implementation.

Established 12 years ago by Scott Lawton, IT Integrity merged with Queensland company Datacare in 2011, taking in its 200-odd active customers, including many in the aged and community care sector. It how has about 40 aged care clients, Mr Lawton said.

For Star Gardens, the plan was to invest in a number of technologies over three years, including full clinical documentation, medications management, communications and HR and payroll.

In 2010, however, the facility's budget was looking bleak. Mr Faull told a LASA Queensland conference recently that despite cost cutting, the company was going backwards.

“Our costs were rising far more than our revenue, and the only way that I could see how to achieve what I wanted to do was to leave blood on the floor,” he said. “I came to the conclusion that we needed to make some productivity improvements and we needed to move on this plan.”

So rather than the planned three-year implementation, Mr Faull decided to implement it over 12 months, at an estimated cost of $400,000.

“[That is] a significant amount of money but in an organisation of our size, it's a huge amount of money,” he said. “It all came down to the previous year or two of research we had done. I estimated we would get a three-year payback.”

Working with IT Integrity, Star Gardens installed a number of new systems, including iCareHealth's clinical documentation system and medication management system; Vocera's hands-free communication system for all staff, which is integrated with a nurse call system; and Simavita's incontinence management system.

It also installed a smart card-based staff ID and mobile log-in system, which allows users to log in once to a computer and use the swipe card to return to the screen they were working on if called away for nursing duties.

A new financial and payroll system was installed from Corporate Information Management (CIM) that included a palm scanner, allowing the company to get rid of time sheets for staff. There was a also a Fit to Work online security checking system, which lets the facility get a police check more or less instantaneously on new staff.

The local pharmacy is better integrated as iCare's medication module can interact with the pharmacy's system, and Star Gardens has also installed Medical Director so the facility can connect to local GPs.

All of these new systems required increased server capacity and the installation of WiFi throughout the site, and all of it was achieved in just over a year.

Since then, there have been some noticeable improvements, Mr Faull said. “We started in 2010, when we were close to 80 per cent total staff to revenue ratio. I knew that wasn't sustainable. The industry is around 70, 71, so today we are sitting at 74.4 per cent. We want to get to 70 to 72.”

For EBITDA per bed, Star Gardens running at $2600 in 2010, but is now close to $5000, with a target of $7500.

Mr Faull estimates the facility has achieved savings over the last two years of $327,000. “It hasn't all come from IT but we wouldn't have achieved it without that package,” he said.

Importantly, he believes the IT investment has helped to attract younger staff and keep existing staff more motivated, and that it has had a “tremendous” influence on Star Gardens' culture.

And for residents, the combination of IT and more motivated staff has seen improvements in resident behaviour and clinical indicators. “How do you put a dollar on that?” he said.

Mr Faull said there was a three-way partnership between Star Gardens, the suppliers and IT Integrity.

“Your relationship with your IT supplier is likely to be longer term than with your bank manager. It's a bit like a marriage – easy to get into but costs a lot of money to get out of it.

“We visited our suppliers and got to know their people. They have to have a commitment to research and development. If they don't have that commitment, I'm not going to buy it."

This is a view that Mr Lawton agrees with. He first began work in the IT industry in the early nineties in technical roles, and worked for both vendors and systems integrators. When he was working at the latter, it was a 'gold partner' of a particular IT company.

“When I was doing that I noticed a couple of trends, and one was that customers are usually sold on certain technologies or platforms,” he said. “It didn't really matter what they wanted to achieve – they just wanted to use the platform.

“Another thing was change management. We had to often change the way people operate and the processes they use, to redesign a lot of things to use that technology. That means changing them and training them again. So when they changed the technology they also had to try to change the people, and the people often then just ignore the technology and went back to doing what they always do.

“So that's why I set up IT Integrity. If you are the owner of a business, you have a couple of trusted advisors like your accountant and your lawyer that you consult to make financial decisions, and my philosophy is that in today's world, technology is absolutely critical to operating a successful business. Organisations need a strong partner from a technology point of view as well.”

Mr Lawton said one of the first decisions he made right was to never be a gold partner with anybody. “We will never financially commit ourselves with any big vendor,” he said.

That was an ethos shared by Bruce and Gail Riddel, the owners of Datacare, who now work with Mr Lawton at IT Integrity following the acquisition in 2011.

Mr Lawton describes Mr Faull as a bit of a visionary in aged care IT.

“He had come from a large aged care organisation in Bluecare and was aware of what could be achieved. A key thing that he's been able to do is to bring the key people along on the journey, from initial ideas to identifying a need and then finding something that will streamline and automate that. He makes sure that all of the people are involved in making the decision.”

Posted in Aged Care

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