Accessible and interoperable: Experts outline what aged care IT providers should consider

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Accessible and interoperable: Experts outline what aged care IT providers should consider

Any IT solutions for the aged care sector need to be simple, consistent and interoperable, said the expert panel at the IT Across Care (ITAC) conference.

During the session on the report from the Royal Commission into Aged Care, several industry leaders offered invaluable insight into the functionality that IT providers should be considering as the sector heads into a phase of major modernisation.

With an emphasis on assistive tech and data collection, the opportunity for providing network hardware for facilities and into people’s homes was discussed, but the major emphasis was on required functionality for digital solutions.

Interoperability was the word of the day as the experts outlined both the opportunities and the difficulties of making solutions that would make a real difference.

The Architecture Practice CEO Saurabh Anand said poor interoperability was a “key finding” of a report the company did to aid the Royal Commission.

“There's little to no interoperability standards that are defined and used across the aged care sector. Plus, there's limited interoperability between aged care providers, GPs, hospitals, specialists and the Australian government. There seems to be a disconnect in how we share information, or lack of that altogether,” he said.

Grant Thornton Australia principal John Picot added that there needs to be awareness at the early planning stage that interoperability can be as challenging as it is vital.  

“We see great expectations around the integrations between core business systems as part of a new project, and very often the expectation gets whittled away through the life of the project as they discover how difficult that is, particularly around the inconsistent standards issue. [The problem is] not understanding from the beginning how much effort will be required to ensure that interoperability really does deliver on the expectations and the needs of the business.”

However, no matter how complex the solutions get, IT providers need to be conscious that user experience is fundamental.

This can mean an opportunity for IT providers to add value through providing training for facility staff.

“Within the healthcare sector in the NHS, they will spend billions of pounds in upskilling the workforce in digital health capabilities,” Australasian Institute of Digital Health chief executive Dr Louise Schaper pointed out.

“We're never going to get that sort of money but I don't think it's necessary either, we can have a more strategic approach. As the sector is looking to pay more attention to workforce care and to upskill people in a supported way, we need to make sure that digital is a part of that.

“What we need to look at, to pull out one profession, what is a nurse … and what does a nurse working in aged care need to know about digital health to be the bloody best nurse that she or he can be?”

However, Picot said we need to take it one step further and ensure that digital solutions are completely intuitive in the way Big Tech has been doing for years.

“If you have to give people digital training, then you fail before you start. We need to learn the lessons from Google and Facebook and Apple. The real key here is to make the technology completely invisible and seamless and intuitive so that people can see what they need to do. They don't need an instruction book, they don't need a 50-page manual, they can work it out because it is so intuitive.”

He also addresses the need to consider workforce diversity in your approach to digital aged care.

“A large proportion of our workforce [is] made up of people that come from a non-English speaking background ... that's an immediate barrier to people being able to really be successful in their job. 

“Policies and procedures ought to have a language translation engine sitting in the background – I click on a flag … and I can access my policies, my procedures, in a language that I absolutely understand in detail, without any difficulty dealing with technical words and technical issues.”

It’s not only the workforce that needs to be thought about; citizen users and the specific needs of an ageing population also have to be considered.

Grant Thornton Australia technology consulting senior manager Stephanie Bennett highlighted the need for accessibility and personalisation.

“There is technology available today to translate [information] into any language or have it meet disability [needs] like short-sightedness or hearing difficulties. It has to incorporate a person's preferences.”

She brought up an example from her own family of a person without sight who is not interested in recommended interventions, saying “if that's a person's preference, then it should be on the My Health Record. We should be able to integrate individualised preferences.”

The Government is slated to release more information in May about how they will be moving forward with the Commission’s recommendations.

The ITAC conference concludes today but all of the experts spoke about the need for a community among IT providers for aged care to help to create integrated systems that will function to provide a high level of care.

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