The adoption of telehealth across Australia’s aged care sector has surged by more than 60 percent since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and is shifting the point of care out of traditional aged care facilities and into peoples’ homes, according to a new report released last week by the Aged Care Industry Information Technology Council (ACIITC).
The report, which was funded by the Department of Health, found that 65 percent of aged care organisations had accelerated their adoption of telehealth and telecare technologies because of COVID-19; and 62 percent introduced them in response to the pandemic.
However, utilisation of telehealth and telecare services still constitutes a relatively low level of adoption, with just over half of aged care organisations using this form of delivery. The main barriers to adoption of telehealth and telecare technology include the financial budget (39%), technology expertise in the organisation (35%), internet access (33%) and lack of consumer capability (33%).
The 2020 Aged and Community Care Innovation and Technology Capabilities and Readiness (CARE-IT ) Report canvassed consumers, workers and volunteers across the aged care sector, including a total of 282 aged care providers and 139 technology vendors, to assess their digital maturity and identify technological opportunities and innovations.
The report found that the COVID-19 pandemic had provided a powerful incentive to accelerate the adoption of care-enabling technologies to overcome physical distancing and avoid spreading infection. Critical to this has been a combination of special funding from government, together with collaboration between organisations and across sectors – particularly in the form of telehealth and telecare.
Among the aged care organisations using telehealth or telecare services, 94.1 percent said they are most likely to use video-based consultation; while telehealth services are most frequently used to help maintain social connections (51%), compared to service and care-plan review and scheduling (37.3%).
The report also challenges the assumption that older people are unwilling to engage in technology, and instead identifies service providers as being more likely to be reluctant, even when consumers are seeking a technology-enabled service response, such as video-based telehealth.
The ACIITC was formed in 2007 by two industry peak bodies – Leading Age Services Australia (LASA) and Aged and Community Services Australia (ACSA) – with the purpose of examining IT-related opportunities and lessons within the aged care industry.
Other highlights from the CARE IT report include:
- Among the organisations surveyed, 51.5 percent are utilising telehealth or telecare; and 45.4 percent have not adopted telehealth or telecare.
- Aged care reforms have emphasised a shift to consumers as the centre of care, with enhanced levels of choice and control in their engagement with the formal aged care system.
- Organisations providing the use of monitoring in-home technologies for clients are most likely to employ fall-detection technology (22%); medication management (7%); blood pressure (7%); weight (6%); blood glucose (4%); temperature (4%); oxygen saturation (1%); and ECG (1%).
- Digital technology is perceived to enhance collaboration and coordination across an organisation by 69.9 percent of those surveyed.
- Technology should not be selected for technology’s sake, but for its potential to value add and enhance care quality and outcomes.
- A majority of aged-care organisations (58.3%) have a clearly defined digital strategic plan; however, one in three lack such a plan.
- The adoption of telehealth/telecare in organisations requires a range of non-technological interventions including integration into workflows, standards, and systems. A similar principle applies to integrating telehealth into the daily lives of older people.
- A majority of organisations surveyed (75.2%) do not assess potential workforce members for their digital literacy as part of their recruitment and selection process. However, 57.4 percent of these organisations believe that digital literacy training should be mandatory.
- There is an industry need for more evidence documenting the return on investment (ROI) that can be achieved by specific technologies.
- A concerning percentage of organisations surveyed are not using appropriate security and protection technology, revealing a digital divide with less mature organisations vulnerable to cybersecurity attack.
- Digital data collection and analysis – from planning to delivery of care and its monitoring – is very efficient and provides rich data; it also avoids data duplication and reduces administration burden and errors.
- Technology can provide significant support for decision making, including: notifications of consumer preferences; real-time clinical alerts; real-time alerts to staff regarding information about their consumers; automatic prompts for the next action required in multi-step care protocols; prompts to complete or remind consumers about overdue care actions and/or missing information.
- There is an overall low level of engagement by aged care providers with Smart Home technology.
The report made a series of sector recommendations, including:
- Development of a two-stage strategic plan based on a two-year and five-year timeframe to improve the digital maturity of the sector and to reduce critical sector vulnerabilities.
- Investment in an industry innovation fund to ensure mainstreaming of technology and innovation in the sector.
- Improving government to business (G2B) reporting processes, informed by codesign with the sector.
- A streamlined version of the CARE IT Survey being re-applied to allow national and international benchmarking over time.
- The development of a national network of living labs to co-design new innovative service models, workforces and tele-technologies.
- Investment in a nationally coordinated education and awareness-raising innovation and technology series to promote digital maturity for the sector.
- A review of current service standards based on the application of a technology and innovation lens.
- Establishment of a clearinghouse that will allow independent assessment and review of technology and innovation products and projects and the sharing of this information sector wide.
- Investigation of new opportunities for economic recovery programs focused on new national, advanced technology solutions for the aged and community care sector.