Professor Deb Parker (pictured left, behind the snowman!) is Digital Health CRC’s Framework Research and Education Director (FRED) for our Flagship area of Residential Aged Care.
Amongst numerous roles, she is Professor of Nursing Aged Care (Dementia) at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS); leads the ageing research program for the Improving Palliative, Aged and Chronic Care through Clinical Research and Translation (IMPACCT) Centre at UTS; and is Co-lead on End of Life Directions in Aged Care, a $15 million federally funded program to improve palliative care and advance care planning for older Australians.
She put her fingers to the keyboard to give us some insight into her background, as well as her thoughts on digital health’s role in the aged care sector.
Tell us a little about you – where were you raised?
How did you become interested and involved in health research?
After working as an aged care nurse for 13 years following hospital training, I decided to complete a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Sociology. That gave me the research skills to combine with my clinical skills, and my first job was working on the Australian Longitudinal Study on Ageing (ALSA) in the first round of data collection in 1992. I loved being involved in research and never went back to full-time clinical work after that.
What does your current research work involve?
My main areas of research are palliative care for older people, dementia and health technology, and services research for older people. I have been involved in some large scale knowledge translation projects improving palliative care and advance care planning for older people receiving aged care services, which enables me to stay connected directly with staff working in the industry.
What is the biggest ‘ah-ha’ moment you have had in your health research career to-date?
The advantage of having a clinical background combined with research training means you can operate like a researcher but communicate and design knowledge translation products like a clinician. That’s invaluable in embedding evidence into practice.
What are the key challenges facing the particular area of healthcare in which you work?
The aged care sector is currently in the midst of a Royal Commission. While this may bring much-needed change to the sector and improve care for older people and their families, it is a difficult time for frontline staff working in an already de-valued industry. Workforce reform is the single biggest factor that can make a difference but it is not cost neutral, so recommendations without increased funding around staffing skill mix and ratio may not go far enough to make real system change.
What are the practical ways in which digital health can provide solutions in this space?
The aged care sector is an early adaptor of technology and, with a workforce under pressure, technological solutions will be a significant part of the future of the aged care workforce.
Looking into the crystal ball, how do you think digital health will transform healthcare in the future?
Linked data that is accessible to researchers, consumers and health professionals will completely change health and aged care in Australia.
What will be needed to get digital health to this point?
Co-operation between the Commonwealth, State and private agencies.
What are some of the most exciting digital health innovations or research you have come across recently?
I was involved in a project with colleagues from Western Sydney University called Time Travelling with Technology (see www.westernsydney.edu.au/the_age_lab). This used Google Earth and Streetview as a medium for reminiscence therapy for people with cognitive impairment. There are other technological options for engaging people with dementia and it is important to ensure these are co-designed and adequately assessed for acceptability and feasibility.
As a FRED, what do you hope to bring to the research and project work that will be undertaken in your particular Flagship area?
I have been working in the area of aged care for 35 years and, while I am employed as an academic, I have strong links with the aged care industry. I hope to bridge the gap between technology and practice.
Outside health research, what are your interests?
I currently live in an apartment, so I spend many hours at Sydney Park playing soccer and Frisbee with a six year old rescued Kelpie/Cattle dog called Rosie.
For more information on our FREDs and what they do, please see the following article:
Professor Deb Parker – biography
Deb is the Professor of Nursing Aged Care (Dementia) in the Faculty of Health, University of Technology Sydney (UTS). She leads the ageing research program for the Improving Palliative, Aged and Chronic Care through Clinical Research and Translation (IMPACCT) Centre at UTS and has received over $35 million in research funding from the NHMRC, Australian Government and philanthropic organisations.
She is a co-lead on End of Life Directions in Aged Care, a $15 million federally funded program to improve palliative care and advance care planning for older Australians.
Deb is also:
Prior to joining UTS in 2016, she was the Director of two industry-based research centres and has extensive aged care industry research networks and experience.