This article first appeared in Pulse+IT magazine.
Over the coming decades, demographic changes will alter the dynamics of our population and significantly increase the demand on aged care services. As our ageing population increases, and the implementation of Consumer Directed Care (CDC) begins, the impact of the demographic change 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.
The aged care sector already faces existing financial, compliance and workforce challenges, and when combined with this increased demand on the industry, it is more important than ever that providers utilise all means possible, including information and communication technology (ICT), in order to meet these challenges.
The recently released ACIITC report, Digital Care Services, recommended that providers boost their annual ICT spend from less than two percent to four to five percent of gross revenue, which would provide the foundations for ICT to play a key role helping to meet the challenges faced by the aged care industry.
The potential benefits of the greater use of technology in the aged care sector range from the economic benefits by reducing the cost of service and improving overall profitability, to the non-financial benefits that improve the quality of life and care experience for residents, consumers and care workers.
Despite the opportunity of these benefits, the uptake of technology across the broader aged care sector has been relatively slow. Therefore what are the most common challenges that are hindering the uptake of technology within the industry?
1. Budget constraints
Irrespective of size, many providers are already operating in a revenue-constrained environment.. Not surprisingly, the availability of funding to cover the investment costs of ICT 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 are used 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.
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..
2. Lack of internal resources
Another common obstacle can be the perceived lack of internal resources available to support 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 software 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.
3. Resistance to technology
Another factor preventing aged care providers from making better use of technology is resistance from staff. There is a 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. 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.
Technological change is accelerating at an exponential rate. As technology continues to revolutionise every facet of our lives, the level of confidence that care staff feel towards working with technology will continue to increase.
Despite these challenges, there is an increasing momentum towards technological uptake in the aged care sector. As the workforce shrinks, becomes more disparate and consumers desire greater connectivity to the community, technology will be critical improving operating efficiencies and consumer experience.
What challenges do you see as hindering the uptake of technology in aged care? Please share your comments below.