By Yasmin Noone

Aged care’s future won’t necessarily feature flying saucers or a workforce of lifelike robots but according to the Productivity Commission, technology will certainly play an essential enough role to force providers to upgrade or fall behind the eight ball.

Should the government adopt the recommendations of the PC’s Caring for Older Australians inquiry, providers will need to update current technologies and get up to speed with the proposed Australian Aged Care Commission’s (AACC) system of choice in order to meet new reporting requirements.

Future regulatory reform, the report states, will focus on “streamlining reporting and embracing technology in receiving and transmitting information between government and providers”.

“…There is significant scope for information technology to reduce the burden of reporting,” stated the report.

“The AACC should explore the case for embracing technological advances in receiving and transmitting information from and to providers in line with standard business reporting. This could be facilitated by imposing a requirement that all providers submit key reports electronically to the AACC.”

The introduction of the personalised e-health record would also require medical professionals and providers to use technology that is interoperable with the Australian government’s data management system.

“There is considerable scope to increase the efficiency of the interacting [aged care and health] systems through the use of information technology, such as the e-Health initiative (including e-prescriptions and e-transactions), that allows information to be shared and accessed in an efficient but safe way.

“Some inquiry participants argued that providers are constrained from introducing technology because they cannot access the capital and recurrent funding to do so…The Commission’s proposed reforms will increase the level of funding for aged care providers (example: increase the level of government subsidies on the basis of the real cost of providing services) which should, in turn, provide greater incentives to increase the uptake of technology in the sector.”

The report also emphasises that in the competitive aged care marketplace of the future, technology will be pivotal to providing cost-effective care and drawing out the most efficient, quality providers from the rest of the pack.

Recommended is the introduction of a centralised data repository or “national clearinghouse for aged care data”, likened to the MySchool website, which will not only manage data about the ageing population but facilitate, collect and disseminate information on aged care providers.

Each profile is expected to provide consumers with insider details on a facility’s quality indicators, level of health care provision and the cost-effectiveness of technologies in achieving care outcomes.

“This will benefit care recipients, providers and policy makers by supporting informed decisions on the most appropriate care services.”

“The proposal to phase-out supply restrictions will [also] mean that providers that offer services (embodying technologies) preferred by care recipients will now benefit from any increase in demand for those services.

“Further, the AACC will take into account the contribution of technologies in delivering cost-effective services in its recommendations on efficient prices for approved aged care services.

“This will reinforce the incentives for providers to adopt that technology.”

According to the report, technology will the fuel sector-wide innovation, enable providers to care remotely for older adults living in rural and remote areas and encourage older people to stay in their homes for longer.

It will also streamline work practices and ensure aged care staff, especially Indigenous workers, who can not access training courses receive online training.

“There may be some opportunities to reduce the labour intensity and alter the skill mix involved in delivering aged care through new models of care and the use of assistive and information technologies.

“However, most applications of technology adopted by aged care providers have acted to complement the workforce — for example, by improving the working environment and improving the quality of care — rather than substitute for it.

“It would not be prudent to assume that technological developments will significantly reduce the relative demand for labour in the future, although demand side pressures should lead to ever more efficient ways to deploy labour.

“Innovations, such as through the application of technology and redesigning work practices, will be important in assisting the aged care sector to meet the expected increase in the demand for services.”

General manager of Care Innovations (part of Intel GE), Dr George Margelis, believes that the PC’s final report is a great step forward for the aged care sector.

“It recognises the need for funding changes that take into account that heterogeneity and also provides opportunities for older Australians and their families to play a greater role in making those decisions,” said Dr Margelis.

“The inclusions on technology are very promising as they focus on removing the barriers to its adoption without being prescriptive of what the technologies are, which should allow for innovation.

“While the need for integration of health services is noted, there probably could have been more focus on how health and ageing services would collaborate to provide a better outcome.

He said that the government now has the opportunity to improve aged care services by helping providers to foster new  solutions that are not pre-defined, as are many of the current solutions.

“Not just in their use of technology, although that is an area of interest for me, but in a more general way. It will be interesting to see what type of new services become available.

“We believe there are now more opportunities to look at how providers can utilise technology to improve the quality and efficiency of their services.

“We will be working with various providers to demonstrate how these technologies may lead to new models of care and even workforce categories.”                                                               

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