Rewards for high quality services may help aged care providers improve care quality and consumer engagement, an industry forum has heard.

The online ITAC May International Forum on Thursday discussed the aged care Federal Budget, reforms, technology and innovation.

University of Queensland NHMRC Boosting Dementia Research Fellow Associate Professor Tracy Comans said the aged care sector struggled with addressing consumer engagement and choice and achieving maximum performance in tandem.

“Eliciting the preferences of older people and their experiences around care isn’t necessarily easy when you have close to 50 per cent of people having some sort of cognitive impairment or dementia,” Professor Comans told the ITAC May International Forum.

“I think our current system is very punitive. You’re punished if you don’t meet a particular standard, but there’s no actual reward for doing better than that standard. I think that’s something that that would be worth looking into,” Professor Comans said.

From top left: George Margelis, Emma Hossack, Anne Livingstone, Derek Dittrich and Tracy Comans.

Emma Hossack, CEO of Medical Software Industry Association said she also liked the idea of incentives as opposed to the current pure punitive measures in return for providing transparency.

“A lot of the software that’s available now will actually enable those who need to to be able to monitor the spend, the quality of care, the number of attendances and things like that,” Ms Hossack told the forum.

Making that available to everyone will lead to a virtuous circle where consumers are getting the care they need and want or it is identified in real-time if not, she said.

“And you’ve got the industry basically on its toes. It’s going to have to perform really well be under the spotlight. Having that kind of incentive, maybe carrot then stick over the next couple of years to get everyone up to the level that they need to be in all kinds of things, not just with the technical prowess but obviously the security and privacy, is absolutely key.”

Aged and Community Services Australia senior manager strategic policy and state manger SA and NT Derek Dittrich told the panel that providers must co-design services with consumers to ensure quality and engagement.

“It has to be fundamentally around solving problems for older people to improve their lives, so that it’s practical and meaningful for them,” Mr Dittrich said.

Aged Care Industry and Information Technology Council Chair of the National Home Care Committee Anne Livingstone said the best service providers are those who are committed to aged care recipients at the start and look at their investment in technology and innovation to drive quality.

Addressing telehealth

On nurses delivering services to aged care recipients via telehealth, Mr Dittrich said this is “important particularly in the regional, rural and remote areas” where overnight telehealth nursing support is one of the potential solutions.

“Telehealth nursing plus other disciplines is fundamental once you head out of the city,” he said.

However, reliable internet access is a challenge that must be addressed, he said.

Tracy Comans

Professor Comans said it was important to know that the telehealth service was as good as face-to-face care.

“We need to keep in mind that some of these reforms around hours and minutes are that it’s really important to have people there. Sometimes you just need to have your hand held, sometimes you need to have a hand on your shoulder, and we can’t dismiss that,” she said.

However, she said she sees it working well in speciality areas, including diabetes educators, wound care and palliative care.

“There’s specialty nursing areas where you’re not going to be able to provide that in a 10, 20 or 30 bed facility. But you can then perhaps be able to bring that technology in and have enhanced services and I think that could be very cost effective for the sector,” Professor Comans said.

Improving telehealth uptake

There is also a need to improve funding for telehealth services to boost provider uptake, Ms Hossack said.

“People quite simply won’t use telehealth and telehealth video… unless they think it’s… useful. But then they do think that if they’re paying for that service, they should get some reimbursement… that’s how it seems to work in health,” Ms Hossack said.

“We need to work with that and that means fairly major changes to the funding… because those services are there,” she said. “But I think less than 10 per cent of people are using the video component,” she said.

Research by Macquarie University found general practitioner telephone consultations increased during the peak periods of the COVID-19 pandemic in aged care homes in Victoria and New South Wales but video consults remained steady and low throughout the year.

The ITAC May International Forum took place on 27 May.

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