When people think of getting older, the digital economy and cutting-edge technology is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. But that’s all about to change, writes the CEO of Aged & Community Services Australia (ACSA), Pat Sparrow.

In the next ten years, we can expect a six times doubling of the world’s technology. The cyber-physical revolution is going to make a massive impact and transform our lives.

Pat Sparrow.

Older Australians, in particular, will represent a growing and deeply engaged catalyst for profound change, as they begin to seek out additional health and care services.

As the new generation of older Australians enter aged care services they will bring their digital tools with them. Already nearly 50 percent of the older population have taken the plunge and are now using wearable and mobile apps – and other online health management tools – every month. That is directly at odds with how older Australians are viewed by many people.

Unsurprisingly, the Australian Seniors Ride Digital Care Wave (2019) report by Accenture highlights that 61% of respondents over the age of 65 feel that the use of technology when managing health is either somewhat or very important.

Technology is very much part of our future, in both care delivery and in the running of aged care services. It has the potential to support the best health and quality of life outcomes for residents and improve governance and operational processes for management. These aims have always been the driver for aged care providers and are now very much in the public attention as the Aged Care Royal Commission conducts its examination.

Innovation in aged care – and the role of digital health

The Aged Care Royal Commission has also kick-started a significant community discussion about how we address the opportunities and challenges presented by our ageing nation more broadly.

We have been given a great opportunity to shine a light on innovation and ways to provide even better care and support.

Innovative models of care, the increasing use of technology, and workforce issues were all in-scope when considering how we can assure the quality of care we expect for our elders in a sustainable and viable way into the future. This is one of the reasons that ACSA, as the peak body for non-profit providers, welcomed the Royal Commission.

As a sector, we are seeing more and more innovation as we seek to build the bridge between the user (the sector) and innovator (the technology). For us to thrive, technology must be part of all of our strategies moving forward.

Aged care is becoming increasingly consumer directed, as our clients and residents tell us they want more flexible home care packages and the chance to be able to maintain their agency in managing their lives – whether they live at home, in a retirement village, or in residential aged care.

Providers now must cater for the individual needs of consumers. Technological tools that can monitor, collect data and potentially diagnose issues will be the ultimate assets for us to ensure maximum flexibility as service providers, while also ensuring the individual is safe and able to continue to do what they want to do. The better use of tech innovation improves a provider’s service execution and processes, resulting in significant reductions in costs and even better quality of delivery.

ACSA has been privileged to speak with many innovators in the aged care, health and disability sectors. They have to have vision, courage and initiative to start a tech business.

Umps Health is a great example of a technology that will improve the lives of individuals, giving them confidence and their family peace of mind – and it’s because it was built from personal experience and understanding. On the business improvement side, Emprevo has built technology to better manage the aged care workforce and to support workers in managing their shifts. It can also be built on to support the workforce of tomorrow.

Showcasing innovation in aged care

Earlier this year, industry participants and innovators came together, and we saw just how beneficial technology could be in the aged care sector with the launch of the first City of Melbourne sponsored Experience Centre. The Centre was launched by Umps Health and ACSA. I was thrilled to see our organisation play such an active role in its launch.

At the launch, we heard from Louise who lives over 100 kilometres away from her elderly mother, Shirley, in Colac. Living so far from her mother has been difficult for both Louise as a carer, and for her mother who lives alone. With digital health technology like Umps Health, Louise will know immediately if there are any changes to her mother’s safety or health, and therefore whether she needs to take action.

I understand this from my own experience. My wonderful 91 year old Mum lives on her own in Adelaide, with great support from one of my locally based sisters. The thing I notice the most now when I visit is that she is losing her confidence. I’m exploring Umps for her as I think, with that kind of support in place, she will regain her confidence and be able to continue to live independently.

Moving to a tech-driven aged care future

This kind of technology is becoming increasingly affordable, meaning that the take-up will increase and over time it will just become the norm.

Over 35% of older Australians are willing to share health information through a wearable or an app, according to the Accenture report. Technology innovation like Umps Health has the potential to enable more Australians to live at home for longer in better health, reduce admissions to hospital, and decrease the amount of time spent in residential care. This is what older people want, and the industry as a whole needs to look to increase the adoption of these technologies.

The problem that we are facing with technology and digital health right now is an understandable sense of uncertainty and risk.

In a uniquely human industry like aged care, it is absolutely essential that technology is not used to take human contact, friendship and caring support out of what we deliver every day. Aged care needs to be both hi-tech and hi-touch.

In order to fully harness the opportunities and mitigate risks, we need to throw ourselves into tech in aged care and get involved at every level to shape the future.

For example, a review by the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia found that approximately 250,000 hospital admissions annually were the result of medication-related problems.

Medication management technology can so easily prevent this. In New Zealand, Medi-Map is widely used by many aged and health care providers, and increasingly Australia is beginning to adopt similar technologies such as Telstra Health’s MedView. It has the ability to monitor prescriptions and reduce the risk of medication duplication, while also increasing workforce efficiency. With all the health records available through the cloud-based application, preventable medication-related hospital admissions – which cost Australians $1.4 billion annually – can be significantly reduced.

We need to embrace these platforms and digital apps, and give them a chance to forge a pathway for Australia in being a thought leader in aged care technology and a provider of the best care globally.

Collaboration and investment are key. Providers, innovators and investors (government and private) need to come together to develop, support and refine technologies that will better support individuals and businesses. Australia has a long way to go to achieve this. We sit far behind other countries, notably Israel, in creating the right environment for innovation to thrive.

We hope that the Aged Care Royal Commission and the re-elected Coalition Government will make future-proofing aged care a priority for our growing population of ageing Australians – so the aged care sector can deliver better quality care and give clients and residents independence and choice through sustainable businesses.

ACSA stands ready to play its part.

For more information: www.acsa.asn.au
Email Pat Sparrow at [email protected]


Photo of hands by Christian Newman on Unsplash.