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Aged care missing out on e-health

Residential aged care facilities could be a key beneficiary of Australia’s new e-health system, so why aren’t more engaging?

Incompatible software and an unwillingness to sign up are among reasons for low uptake of the national e-health system by residential aged care in the opt-out trial regions, the independent evaluation shows.

The report, which was finalised in November, recommended government proceed to a national opt-out approach, which gained unanimous support at COAG last year.

However, the report was only released this month ahead of last week’s Federal Budget that contained an additional $68.7 million among a total of $374.2 million over two years to expand and improve the My Health Record including rolling out the opt-out model nationally (see that story here).

The evaluation found a consistent view among individuals that Government should make it compulsory for healthcare providers to use the system and it recommended Government considered ways to do that and use its purchasing power directly, such as “require use of the My Health Record system in all clinical and aged care services that receive Commonwealth funds.”

Of the 139 known residential aged care services in the opt-trial footprint encompassing the Nepean Blue Mountains and North Queensland PHNs, only two in each region were registered to use the system, the report found.

A spokesperson for the NBM PHN confirmed to Australian Ageing Agenda last week there have been no further outcomes with aged care facilities in the NBM region since the evaluation.

“We have continued to engage with them [facilities] since the trial but progress has been limited due to the lack of conformant software,” the spokesperson told AAA.

The evaluation of various opt-out and opt-in models ran from January to October 2016.

Not long after it was commissioned in late 2015 aged care peaks responded angrily when it was revealed that providers would not be offered any financial support by government to participate. GPs and private hospitals received support to connect to the eHealth (see that story here).

Aged care didn’t benefit

Overall, the evaluation found that healthcare organisation registrations to use the My Health Record system went up significantly in the opt-out trial regions, but that was not the case for residential aged care services.

It found that the readiness of aged care and its workforce would need to be a major part of any future work to improve and the sector’s use of the My Health Record.

By 7 May 2017, there were 173 residential aged care services nationally registered with the system. This is up from 155 at 29 February 2016 when the trials got underway, and 144 in June 2015.

The two opt-out trial sites reported challenges in engaging with residential aged care facilities beyond disseminating information. They were revising their strategies toward the end of the evaluation, according to the report.

At the end of the evaluation period, two of the 27 known aged care facilities in the NBM region were registered to use the My Health Record system and 15 had conforming software, according to the report.

It noted that 16 facilities were part of a larger organisation that required approval from head office to participate in the system, and one of these organisations was in the process of registering its entire 17 facilities across NSW, including those in NBM region.

In North Queensland, the NQPHN had engaged with 63 residential aged care facilities out of 112 in the area by the end of the evaluation period, and two of those facilities had the location and site certificates needed to use the My Health Record.

NQPHN chief executive Robin Moore said they and the department recognised that the aged care sector would be key users of the My Health Record and they continued to engage with residential facilities across their region.

He told AAA:

“During the trial the team engaged with residential aged care facilities to understand their software requirements and deliver information sessions to staff and residents, with a particular focus on advance care plans.”

“Using feedback from the [facilities] we worked with the Australian Digital Health Agency to improve how advance care plans are uploaded to the My Health Record system.”

Mr Moore said they developed communication materials for seniors and partnered with community service providers and organisations to deliver information sessions.

Aged care peaks welcome opt-out

The move to a national opt-out approach has been welcomed by aged care peaks Leading Age Services Australia and Aged and Community Services Australia.

LASA chief executive Sean Rooney said LASA would be looking to government to support providers to implement and use the My Health Record system.

ACSA chief executive Pat Sparrow said a national opt-out model would be a game changer for the take up of the My Health Record.

“Where there are implementation and system issues we will work with relevant authorities to address them,” Ms Sparrow told AAA.

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