Aged Care Stands On The Edge Of A Tech Precipice

At a recent event, a number of experts contributed to a panel discussion on how technology is changing how health care is being delivered to our aging population. And while technology offers lots of opportunities, it comes with many challenges. The services needed by older people and their carers are delivered by many different providers, funded under different state and federal models with myriad regulatory obligations. And as our population ages the need for high quality services to be delivered efficiently is growing. Technology can help but there are many challenges.

The panel, which was sponsored by mobility software developer SOTI, brought together Rodney Gedda from technology analysts firm Telsyte, David Robinson from system integrator Envisian, Nan Bosler form the Australia Seniors Computer Clubs Association, and former Intel Medical Director for Australia George Margelis.

During the introduction, Gedda gave a broad overview of where technology is heading in the healthcare business With more and more devices being equipped with sensors, Gedda said the aged care industry is facing a "data deluge" with at least 12% of people looking at using a smart health device by the end of the decade.

This leading to a change in how care is provided.

Carl Rodrigues, the founder of SOTI opened the panel saying "In the old days, the measurement point was when someone would go to the hospital, get tests and diagnostics done and visit a doctor. Now there's an ability to stream information in real time while people are moving without really encumbering them. That means you can diagnose things earlier. That means you can apply treatment at the earliest possible point and therefore, usually, have the best outcomes".

However, there is a paradox in healthcare said Gedda. While medial technology is moving ahead in leaps and bounds, administrative systems are lagging behind.

Added to this, healthcare workers and patients are all bringing their own devices and apps into the mix, adding further complexity for integration of devices and data so everyone involved in patient care gets the service they expect. As aresult, there is an increased focus on data, rather than device, management.

Part of the problem, said Robinson, is that there are many barriers to getting technology integrated successfully into the aged-care industry. Change is often taken on a large scale but legacy systems, data and people don't or can't keep up. Add in data security, regulatory and compliance frameworks, and various state regulations, the national Privacy Act and issues of data sovereignty and life gets very complex very fast.

"We all want to see innovation, and get the benefits now but effective change runs into a lot of barriers. People and processes don't change at the same pace as technology," he said.

Margelis, with his background as a medical practitioner and through over a decade working at Intel Australia said we are shifting to consumer directed funding which puts individuals at the centre of their care rather than putting control in the hands of agencies. But there is a balancing act between what people want and what they need. Furthermore, many of the technology solutions deployed by aged care facilities are bespoke, not scalable, and data is not transferable. He noted that in one hospital there were over 100 databases operating and one patient's data could be on up to 40 different databases with data transcribed manually.

Bosler brought a different perspective to the discussion. She founded the Australia Senior Computer Clubs Association while caring for her husband for 14 years. While medical technology has resulted in longer lifespans she said - life expectancy is up 20 years over last 50 years, expected to rise by another 10 by the middle of 21st century - quality of life has not improved at the same rate. technology has the capacity to change that.

"I see technology providing safety, security and quality of life for older Australians as they age either at home or in aged-care facilities. I also see technology improving the working conditions of those who care for them," she said.

Understanding what technology can do is not the principle issue, said Margelis.

"We can engineer any solution you want, but is is a relevant solution? Is it what the older person, the family, the people really want. This is the main challenge of technology," he said.

It's not all bad news. Technology offs great opportunities. But the panel all agreed what is lacking is a strategic view. There are still competing priorities and the need to balance state control with federal mandate. The NDIS and personal health care records are current examples of federal policies that directly impact state-funded organisations and service.

Robinson asked "How do we harness these incredible innovations and manage the difficulties of change and avoid the chaotic and expensive situations that a lot of large organisations get themselves into in transformations".

Later in the discussion, he answered his own question, saying we need to eat the elephant one bite at a time.

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