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Better tools lead to better quality in aged care

Australia’s aged-care sector must look at new approaches to keep pace with higher expectations for process and compliance.

Bound by rigorous standards to safeguard the wellbeing of our older citizens, Australia’s aged-care providers are looking to technology platforms to manage and communicate the processes required to meet the protocols of health and community care. Beyond compliance-related record keeping, they are also discovering how to turn good ideas into everyday practice – the process of continuous improvement.

Operators in the aged-care industry are driven to run lean organisations in an increasingly competitive industry. They share the common challenges of capturing, sharing and maintaining process information under a complex regulatory regime. The ability to manage the implementation of new systems and the communication of essential information is made even more difficult by aged care’s requirements for large numbers of staff, many of whom are shift workers. And as approved providers increasingly require scale to remain viable, they often own multiple facilities across the country, adding more complexity.

The pressure on the sector, and the opportunities open to it, are seen clearly in the government’s Intergenerational Report 2010, which predicted the number of aged-care recipients – in both residential facilities and their own homes – is to increase over the next 40 years by about 150 per cent – to 2.5 million people, or 8 per cent of the population. It also estimated that by 2050, 4.9 per cent of the Australian workforce would be employed in the delivery of aged care.

The Australian National Audit Office has found that the “ageing population, increasing longevity and greater diversity in the care expectations and preferences of residents are placing pressure on the sector. Its capacity to respond is being limited by current business models, homes operating at full or nearly full capacity and a general shortage in the residential aged-care workforce”.

Dynamic, not static

The federal accreditation program framework places a strong emphasis on providers accepting responsibility for continuous service improvement. Services need to be developed and delivered faster, and at a higher quality and lower cost.

As requirements build on the sector to maintain standards while operating leaner organisations, there is a constant search for ways to reduce the use of resources, eliminate waste, work smarter and improve efficiency.

The four Residential Accreditation Standards of the Australian Aged Care Quality Agency detail how the sector is to manage: systems, staffing and organisational development; health and personal care; care recipient lifestyle; and physical environment and safety systems. These quality standards demand proof that process information has been made available to employees consistently across the organisation. Follow-up audits ensure processes are being implemented.

A new approach

In many aged-care facilities, a more effective approach to process management is required to ensure the delivery of quality care, reduce the time it takes to prepare new employees and the effort involved to fulfil audit requirements and support the implementation of new systems and software.

A move from procedures documents stored in ring-binders, forgotten on a shelf, to an online process management solution will not only result in greater employee engagement and higher morale, it will directly affect the experience and satisfaction of those in care. A clear understanding of existing and planned processes will also support the selection and customisation of essential software for scheduling and invoicing, and for enterprise resource planning system implementations.

Turn ideas into everyday action

A crucial element of process improvement in the aged-care sector is tapping into the creative input of the people in the best position to offer constructive advice. This means encouraging those responsible for carrying out the work to come forward with new ideas.

Too many organisations have discovered just how difficult it can be to turn these good ideas into everyday practice without a platform for managing, communicating and providing feedback on processes.

Transferring ideas into a knowledge base, a controlled library of valuable know-how, creates a cycle that ensures lean organisations have dynamic processes that are managed as an information asset.

It is vital to empower a go-to person and to create a go-to place for processes. These days, teams expect to interact with processes in the same way they use a good website. The modern process knowledge base is online and easily navigable. It provides a place for interaction, invention and ingenuity, all available in clear, everyday language. This is particularly important for staff whose first language may not be English.

Online solutions allow aged-care service providers to capture all procedures and transform every process into an easily accessible, web-based format stored in a single location.

Organisations require the ability to provide just enough detail so users can see at a glance what needs to be done. Staff shouldn’t be bombarded with information, they need the tools to drill further into the detail if needed.

Each part of a complex process can be divided into multiple levels that are logically addressed, as required. All forms and vital policy documents can be linked into the step of the process where they should be used, saving time and assuring accuracy. This can be of great benefit, especially for staff dealing with a new situation, and it becomes invaluable for induction, training and compliance.

Even a provider facility with 1000 client interactions a day should be able to maintain up-to-date records and ensure that every interaction is managed in line with the complex legal, regulatory and internal guidelines.

To create a lean organisation, processes must be made accessible from a central place where updates are universal, usable and changeable.

The single point of access for all procedures will not only save staff time looking for files or manuals, but also make following guidelines easy. With simple access comes higher and faster adoption rates, and a more consistent, higher quality of care.

Teams will no longer need to re-invent the wheel and dilute efforts away from their core business. With a centralised, structured knowledge asset, individuals aren’t each developing their own approach to solving the same problem.

Learn from mistakes

In a compliance-heavy organisation, process management software provides not only the ability to more easily meet the required standards and guidelines, but when an incident happens, it makes it easy to learn from it and adjust. Because every step is recorded, teams can identify where the issue occurred and analyse how to do better next time. This kind of reflective practice is one of the real value-adds from process management software. Delivered from the cloud, these new collaboration tools, which also leverage mobile technologies, are completely changing the way knowledge is managed and shared in the aged care sector.

The adoption of a new approach to process and compliance is critical to enable the delivery of quality care, a reduction in orientation time for new staff, streamlined audit management, and support for the implementation of new systems and software required to drive growth and efficiencies. A more effective process management approach can also drive greater returns on the investments the sector is already making in people and technology – key ingredients for their future success.

Ivan Seselj is chief executive of Promapp.

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