Telehealth consultant, academic and author, Dr Alan Taylor, discusses the four changes required for the digital transformation of the aged care sector.
Management of the COVID-19 pandemic has illustrated that diverse combinations of digital technologies can be developed rapidly and effectively to support the many needs of older people to stay healthy and live independently.
Remote consultations, remote monitoring, remote support for independent living, and communications between providers and older people were all achieved during the pandemic using a variety of solutions.
While there are system complexities to be addressed in any new digital technology deployment, technical aspects are seldom the major barrier to its realisation.
Rather, according to well-respected telehealth consultant and academic, Dr Alan Taylor, the key to digital transformation in aged care is a new, sector-wide approach to funding models.
Because the social and health needs of older people are often complex, the current model of funding-based payment for specific health activities may not contribute to resolving needs.
Rather, there should be a focus on the development of funding models that target the enabling factors impeding the widespread adoption of digital technologies. This shift in focus will legitimise the use of digital technologies that would otherwise be dismissed as peripheral to core activities, and ultimately improve the health and wellbeing of older people.
Dr Taylor’s four changes to promote digital transformation in aged care include:
1. Development of physical and technology resources to support remote aged care
is a fundamental requirement for the use of digital technologies. These technologies include:
- infrastructure such as consultation spaces, equipment, and lighting;
- info-structure such as unified medical records, exchange of health information between aged residential facilities and primary care services;
- and communications infrastructure to resolve connectivity issues within aged care facilities including limited bandwidth and signal strength, or ability of residents or clients to access devices
2. Building collaborations in the use of technologies for remote aged care,
designed to support independent living, positive and healthy ageing, and enhanced quality of life, should be developed through co-design between end users and service.
There are many providers involved in aged care: Complex conditions in older people need to be managed by different primary care and specialist care providers. However, adoption by aged care providers of technologies that support aged care and enhanced quality of life has been patchy, dependent on the willingness of individual providers to engage with the technology.
National support could stimulate the building of collaborations between providers throughout the aged and healthcare sectors in the use of technologies for remote healthcare.
3. Enhancing the technology skills and digital literacies of the aged care workforce
through a sector-wide national strategy to ensure workforces have confidence in their levels of digital literacy to respond to changing technology and demand; and can communicate with their clients or informal carers using digital technologies.
National programs that provide national accreditation of the workforce in digital literacies would provide opportunities for use of online learning, videoconferencing and partnerships with older people who wish to maintain or develop their own digital literacy.
4. Adaptation or creation of clinical frameworks for the remote healthcare of older people
whether they are aged care facility residents or living independently where in-person care is not possible or clinically required. When care is supported remotely, healthcare practices may need to be redesigned, including workflows and their associated protocols, in order to ensure quality and safety.
Clinical frameworks play an important role in legitimisation and acceptance of new or modified clinical practices and should be based in evidence. To provide this evidence, national funding is needed to evaluate new initiatives, and trials, and to translate their findings into practice, policy and tested clinical frameworks.
Telehealth expert and academic, Dr Alan Taylor, has extensive experience in the use of digital technologies and telehealth in aged care. In his new book, Healthcare Technology in Context: Lessons for Telehealth in the Age of COVID-19, Dr Taylor, explores the Australian and Brazilian health systems to extract valuable lessons on the incorporation of telehealth by public health systems in the middle of a global health crisis.
Dr Taylor also recently lead a project to develop a new international standard for telehealth services: ISO 13131:2021 Health informatics – Telehealth services – Quality planning guidelines.