Providers advised to invest in IT wisely

Digital investments must be meaningful and offer value to all people working and living in aged care, writes Hamish Robertson.

Digital investments must be meaningful and offer value to all people working and living in aged care, writes Hamish Robertson.

Big data hype is everywhere and the aged care sector is no exception. There are vendors, academics and consultants all with an interest – often financial – in building close relationships with the aged care sector. This connection increasingly focuses on the issues of data collection, access and analytics.

Hamish Robertson

Some want to research your data, others want to sell you a data-oriented product, product suite, process or some combination of these. Still others have a bleeding edge idea or technology that they hope aged care might help them pilot, operationalise or bring to market.

Chances are you have been approached by some of these people recently – if not, be prepared – and, that some sort of data-oriented discussion marks their business case or even sales pitch.

One of the things to keep in mind in this ever-revolving door of technological offerings and opportunities is the main aims of your organisation. Is it about providing high-quality care, a positive working environment, a financially sustainable model or some combination of this and related factors? Ask yourself:

  • How will each technology decision fit into this equation?
  • What value does it offer now and in the foreseeable future?
  • Which aspects are useful off the shelf and what unique aspects of your organisation might need to be accommodated before implementation is viable and the outcomes are useful and of value?
  • How much will it cost you to get this technology operating successfully in your organisation?

Adding potential value

The aged care sector was once the poor relation of healthcare but that situation is changing fast as population ageing progresses and the complexities of aged care become central to health and social care design and delivery.

The data sciences, and associated technologies, are a factor in driving that change because quantification is central to how we manage information. The management theorist Peter Drucker noted years ago that “what gets measured gets managed.”

This situation can only grow in scope and complexity as the aged care sector becomes increasingly digitised.

Digitisation is impacting rapidly on the aged care industry. One of the lessons you can take from this process is that your data and your capacity to generate data has value going forwards. And not just for regulators wanting to measure quality assurance issues or value for money but for other audiences as well.

When you implement databases or networked information systems and plug in new digital equipment, you will be generating data to some set of identifiable standards. That data has potential value.

It can help inform your business model, workforce management, costs, operational considerations, quality assurance and so on. It can also be seen as a resource for change management, process improvements or evaluative research on specific issues, such as changes to treatment and care regimes or for academic and related partners.

Digitisation means that aged care is increasingly enmeshed in the data game, one in which traditional analogue information methods are likely to be enhanced, superseded or replaced entirely.

Commenting as someone with a history of research experience in this area, this is not a criticism of digitisation in and of itself. There is an inevitability to digitisation since it will become the norm in most industries. And it supports many processes that could not be done readily or economically if done manually.

The real concern is that if digitisation is seen to be an adequate or cheaper substitute for other skills and values, such as personal care in the aged care sector. We aren’t running Amazon warehouses for the aged – and digital strategies need to keep this principle front and centre in its development cycle.

Where I see digitisation adding value to aged care is in the generation of useful, meaningful information not easily generated by other means and the addition of a data-informed perspective to the aged care sector’s approach to issues such as care, quality and sustainability.

Take a relatively simple area such as food consumption and nutrition management. We know the scope of the problem, for example food waste, malnutrition and medication problems, so how could a data-informed initiative improve outcomes in this space?

Does the innovation track the logistics side of the equation, such as cost, quantity, waste and disposal and the care side, such as enjoyment, appetite, body weight and sarcopenia?

Can we connect the two perspectives – inputs versus outputs – into one meaningful view of what is a casual chain using data streams in a care facility? Can our growing digital information management environments connect the obvious dots into a manageable picture that we can then act on?

Digitisation has already become the norm in many industries including finance, high technology and, more often manufacturing. It is increasingly affecting healthcare, the disability sector and aged care.

Most social policy domains are increasingly data intensive and the technologies being introduced are driving the speed of this transformation. The aged care sector is and will continue to be an actively expanding player in this space.

The genuine concern is that digital technology investments are meaningful and offer value to the whole organisation including staff and clients.

Hamish Robertson is a health and medical geographer currently managing a project on visualising vulnerabilities in healthcare at the University of Technology Sydney.

The full version of this article appears in the current May-June edition of Australian Ageing Agenda magazine.

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