Over the next few decades, demographic changes are expected to convert the dynamics of our population and unleash unparalleled demand on the aged care sector. As our ageing population swells, the impact of the demographic force will see a greater call for complex, personalised services that support individuals and their families to live fulfilling and independent lives in their own communities.
Combined these demands with the existing financial, compliance and workforce challenges and it is clear that the upward trend of pressure on the aged care sector shows no sign of subsiding. It is more important than ever that providers utilise all means possible, including information and digital technology, in order to thrive in the new aged care landscape.
The potential benefits of the greater use of information and digital technology in the aged care sector are enormous. From the economic benefits that reduce the cost of service and improve overall profitability, to the non-financial benefits that improve the quality of life and care experience for residents, consumers and care workers, there are benefits aplenty to be had.
Yet, despite the range of likely benefits, the widespread uptake of technology across the broader social care sector has been relatively slow off the mark. This inspired us to take a closer look at three of the most common challenges that are contributing to a sluggish uptake of technology within the aged care sector. We also share some ideas on ways providers can address these issues – regardless of the size of the organisation.
1. Budget constraints
The harsh reality of the aged care sector is that, irrespective of size, many providers are already operating in a revenue-constrained environment, whereby budgets are already stretched to maximum capacity. Not surprisingly, the availability of funding to cover the investment costs of information and digital technology is one of the most obvious challenges.
Whether implementing new technology for the very first time or modernising existing technologies, the capital outlay required for infrastructure, hardware, implementation, maintenance and system upgrades can seem to be unaffordable for many organisations.
Understandably, when you’re use to existing structures, systems and processes – even if they are inefficient – taking a step back to consider the ways to make improvements can be quite difficult. However, there are substantial gains that come with identifying issues, problems and challenges, then restructuring activities and investing in the right technology solutions to work through these.
When exploring and reviewing possible technology-based solutions, it is important to delve deeply into the specific benefits and understand how these can help your own organisation to improve efficiency, productivity, quality of care – areas that can all have a positive impact on the bottom line.
A clear, accurate view of the benefits – from a strategic and operational level, right through to the advantages for staff on the floor – can help showcase the inherent value of technology, making it easier to plan and obtain the necessary budgetary support from the top level.
Keep in mind, we’ve also come a long way from off-the shelf, one-size-fits-all, overpriced technology solutions. Advancements such as Software as a Service (SaaS) and cloud computing are driving down the costs of aged care-specific technology applications, making these solutions increasingly more affordable and cheaper to use.
2. Lack of internal resources
As it is, aged care settings are renowned as frenzied hubs of activity so it is understandable that a perceived lack of internal resources can be another common obstacle when it comes to the introduction of new technology.
Larger aged care organisations may have the workforce structures in place with dedicated IT managers and support staff to oversee the implementation of new technology, in addition to ongoing support and management of an IT system. However, the availability of similar resources are beyond the capabilities of many small to medium organisations. Where the internal resources required for IT management and support are simply not available, considerable pressure may be placed on staff who lack the expertise and qualifications to deal with these issues.
It’s important that your chosen solution provider can offer you an adequate level of ongoing, personalised support to ensure that staff are not spending their valuable time having to manage the new structures and systems. Ideally, you should be offered access to a support team 24 hours a day, seven days a week so they are available when problems occur. Prospective technology providers should also offer multiple support channels by telephone, online and via email.
When you’ve made a commitment to invest in technology, another effective way to encourage the uptake of technology internally is to utilise your biggest influencers, or ‘IT champions’. An internal IT champion can act as the key point person to manage the project and act as the go-to resource between senior management and staff. They can also assist in lowering training costs and relieve support and troubleshooting requests, as they willingly impart their knowledge with colleagues. Read more about how to identify and engage influential leaders who understand and are excited by what technology can offer.
3. Resistance to technology
Resistance from staff towards change and technology as a factor preventing aged care providers from making better use of technology is a common, yet interesting one.
It is also widely recognised that the aged care sector has often avoided adopting technology, based on a fear of the systems being too complicated or not suitable to the practical needs of delivering nursing and care. There is a very common opinion that care workers do not possess a high level of IT skills and capabilities, and therefore can be resistant when it comes to the concept of new technology.
As in any sector, the level of IT skills and capabilities vary considerably in aged care. But with time, even those staff with minimal experience will become increasingly computer literate and come to expect the same technology standards experienced elsewhere in their lives.
According to Frost & Sullivan’s latest report, Australian Mobile Device Usage Trends 2013, mobile devices have transitioned to more sophisticated multi-functional usage based on their mobile media capabilities. It is estimated that Australia’s smartphone penetration in 2013 was at 73 percent in the 15 to 65 age group, and predicted this to reach 93 percent by 2018, when it is likely that virtually all mobile phones will have built-in smartphone functionality. Penetration of tablet devices in Australian households is also forecasted to increase significantly from 49 percent in 2013 to 80 percent in 2018, ultimately outpacing the growth of smartphones.
There can be little doubt that technological change is accelerating at an exponential rate. As technology continues to revolutionise every facet of our lives, the level of confidence that staff feel towards working with technology will continue to increase.
In our next series of posts, we will be providing real case examples of how aged care organisations have successfully overcome some of the above challenges. Are there more challenges your own organisation is facing? Or do you have suggestions for those who may be experiencing the challenges above? Please let us know in the comments below.
(Image credit: jscreationzs)