$10m to plant the seed for better aged care through ICT

A one-off investment of $10 million from the federal government will help the aged care industry to implement a plan for better ICT services across the sector, enabling it to introduce new models of care, improve productivity and reduce waste, the Aged Care Industry Information Technology Council (ACIITC) says.

The council, which last week launched a blueprint outlining its vision for ICT in aged care, believes the investment of $10 million should be looked at as seed money to enable aged care providers to begin investing more in ICT, similar to previous investments made in the primary care sector for GPs and pharmacists.

And in a nod to the Coalition government and its stated agenda of cutting red tape and freeing up business investment, the blueprint argues that the government might also take the opportunity to review the scope of information currently required by streamlining reporting requirements and information access.

ACIITC chair Suri Ramanathan said that while the industry had put forward a firm figure of $10m, it well understood that the current focus was on tightening budgets rather than expanding them. However, the aged care industry was arguing that in addition to the investment, the government and the industry can together look at reducing waste.

That said, the purpose behind the blueprint was to argue that investing in ICT is a way to change models of care to better enable older Australians to remain independent and well.

“The reality is, this entire discussion is all about how you change the models of care,” Mr Ramanathan said. “It is about how you enable and maintain the dignity of older Australians. Right now, I think that technology has gone way beyond the policy.”

The Digital Care Services: Harnessing ICT to create sustainable aged care services blueprint, developed in association with Accenture, does look at different areas such as telehealth, eHealth and the PCEHR, but also at less headline areas such as integration of care planning, management information and reporting and staff productivity.

It argues that leading providers are looking to improve the productivity of their workforce by reducing the administration and travel burden, maximising face-to-face care time, and providing unobtrusive monitoring or assistance when carers cannot be there.

What the aged care industry is looking for is stable investment and a move beyond the ad hoc projects announced and funded in the past with little follow-up or coordination.

“What we would like is some normality,” Mr Ramanathan said. “We don't really need people to tell us what to do because we pretty much know how to look after older people, and to be very honest the people who we look after actually know what they want.

“That may come as a surprise to a whole lot of people, but our clients know what they want and we want to work with them. What this vision is all about is the industry doing something in terms of leadership.

“What we're saying is this is our canvas, it is not prescriptive about what should happen, but that eventually we'd like to liberate the consumer to become a participant in their care, not just be recipients of care. They take ownership of themselves and we will then help and enable them.”

Mr Ramanathan said there were three audiences that ACIITC and the peak bodies were targeting with the vision: the first two being the government, which funds the industry, and the bureaucracy, which administers it.

“The third audience is the providers themselves,” he says. “Some of them need to look at ICT and how it can help address their workforce issues, and their need to be sustainable and viable. They should look at ICT as a way to make themselves viable so they can provide care the way our clients want it.”

However, one of the often forgotten groups when looking at ICT in aged care is the nurses and carers themselves. Industry figures show that IT literacy among care staff is less than 50 per cent.

“This is a nurse-dominated environment, he said. “Basically, the ICT vision talks about very simple things before talking about electronic medication management and all of more complex stuff, which we are more than competent to do anyway.

“You have to look at it in context. These nurses, who work so hard, and for them to have confusing systems is the last thing you'd want.”

Aged care ICT facts and figures:

  • The number of people accessing aged care services in 2012-13 was 900,000
  • By 2023 this number will be 1.6 million
  • By 2050 it will be 3.5 million, with 80 per cent of services delivered in the community
  • Less than five per cent of aged care residents are electronically connected to their GP
  • Prescribing, dispensing and administration of medicines are mostly not electronically linked in aged care
  • The average number of medications in residential aged care is nine per resident; clinical safety recognises the average number should be five
  • IT literacy among care staff is less than 50 per cent, but more than 90 per cent of Australians have a mobile phone, and more than 60 per cent of over 65s have a smart phone.

Posted in Aged Care

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