PC may ignore technology at nation’s peril

An economist, an engineer and the CEO of a community care provider all want the PC, and hence the government, to look at the emerging field of gerontechnology before it’s too late.

Above: (L-R) ATSE fellow Professor Greg Tegart, Feros Care CEO Jennene Buckley and Medical Technology Association of Australia research manager Kylie Maidment (image: Steve Keough Photography).

By Stephen Easton

Businesses and community care providers have both failed to understand the challenges and opportunities presented by an ageing population, and the Productivity Commission’s (PC) draft report Caring for Older Australians must include a chapter on the key role of technology in the future of aged care, according to three speakers at the Innovations in Health and Community Care Forum, held yesterday at Old Parliament House in Canberra.

Professor Greg Tegart, fellow of the Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE), presented the findings of the Academy’s 2010 report Smart Technology for Healthy Longevity to the small audience of aged care stakeholders, including representatives from the PC, Department of Health and Ageing (DOHA) and the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research (DIISR).

The ATSE’s key message was that “a national thrust on the development and application of smart technology for healthy ageing is vital to ensure a healthy, safe, secure and fulfilling future for the increasing aged population in Australia and the maintenance of a healthy, harmonious and prosperous society”.

Above: Economist Dr Kim Sweeny from Victoria Univeristy’s Centre for Strategic Studies (image: Steve Keough Photography).

The report was underpinned by data from the third speaker, economist Dr Kim Sweeny from Victoria University’s Centre for Strategic Economic Studies, whose figures showed substantial savings to be made, even by the most conservative estimates, through the use of gerontechnology to keep people out of hospitals and residential care.  

“The challenges of this ageing population can be tackled…by linking together a number of the technologies that have emerged in the last few decades – nanotechnology, biotechnology, information and communication technology and cognitive science,” Professor Tegart said. “We’ve got a wide range of products that exist for safety and security, diagnostics and treatment and social connectedness and mobility, but the market penetration is limited in the existing cohort of elderly people.”

Above: Teleheath and telecare equipment (image: Steve Keough Photography).

“We need to be thinking about models of funding,” he said. “And it’s quite clear from all of our discussions that the driver needs to be ‘consumer-pull’ not ‘technology-push’.  It’s absolutely vital to involve the elderly people, the medical staff and the carers in thinking about how you use technology and it’s absolutely critical to consider the social and ethical issues.”

Jennene Buckley, CEO of Feros Care, who helped stage the forum with Tunstall Healthcare and Community Resourcing Worldwide, pointed out the positive results the Queensland non-profit provider has achieved through telehealth (monitoring vital signs remotely) and telecare (remote alerts for emergencies).

Feros Care has been trialling telehealth monitoring for their community care clients over the past year.

“GPs, even though there weren’t many in the program, overwhelmingly said they saw positive impact on their clients and would recommend this service to other GPs,” Ms Buckley said. “This technology has given us information that we’ve never had before on our clients living out there with chronic conditions.”

Above: A wireless pulse oximeter (image: Steve Keough Photography).

She said telehealth technology reduced hospital admissions for community-dwelling older people, and the need for residential care beds, which cost around 20 times as much per day. For hospital beds, the cost comparison was even starker.

“We believe, on scale, that it will cost as little as seven dollars a day to provide a telehealth service to our clients. If we can reduce a hospital stay by one day…or if we can prevent one hospital admission, we know we’re going to save a thousand dollars a day.”

Feros Care has also trialled telecare in 137 ‘smart homes’, set up to alert a response centre in emergencies automatically, not just when residents press a button. Feros Care estimates the cost at around four dollars per day after installation.

Ms Buckley urged other community care providers to embrace telecare and telehealth and called for the government to fund research into the area. All three speakers said the PC must look closely at the role of technology in its final version of Caring for Older Australians

Tags: academy-of-technological-sciences-and-engineering, aged, aged-care, ageing, care, caring, caring-for-older-australians, centre-for-strategic-economic-studies, community-care, feros-care, gerontechnology, greg-tegart, jennene-buckley, kim-sweeny, medical-technology-association-of-australiavictoria-university, older, productivity-commission, smart, smart-homes, tegart, telecare, telehealth,

4 thoughts on “PC may ignore technology at nation’s peril

  1. It is amazing that while the health debate rages on a national level about the costs of hospital care, that there are such simple, effective and easy alternatives that struggle to even get the politicians attention.
    This is one of the key ways that “bed blocking” can be dramatically reduced, by allowing people to remain in care or even their own homes while receiving sophisticated health monitoring at a fraction of the cost of hospitals.
    Whilst it is not for everyone, the application is far wider than might first be expected, and the trials are very positive.
    It just seems to be a matter of getting the appropriate politicians attention so that the better solutions can actually be applied – rather than the seemingly endless arguments rage.

  2. Technology for aged care will be consumer led. The politicians are slow and that will not change. What we have to do is improve the access and knowledge of technologies and encourage individuals to buy and use the various technologies. The politicians will follow……Call alert systems and mobility aids are classic examples of where consumer demand has driven the development of products.

  3. I agree witht the comments and add the following.
    The Aged Care industry policy makers have chosen to ignore the excellent developments in technology that assist with the management of clients and also staff. This needs to be a positive inclusion to reform and the aged care horse needs to be lead to the water and forced to have a drink.

  4. Whilst I am a big fan of home telehealth I think it is important we don’t overstate what we can do and assume that just monitoring vital signs is the same as delivering high quality care. The basis of good healthcare is good communications, and new technology enabled by new connectivity options such as the NBN can revolutionise the delivery of these services to the home.
    It is important that we don’t stop innovation and accept an immature and piecemeal technology as the solution.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *