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How providers are responding to an increasingly competitive sector

Aged and disability care providers have endured ongoing upheaval in recent years, culminating in the establishment of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety in late 2018. With little foreknowledge of the process or obligations, the response requirement was an onerous task for many industry members, exacerbated by limited initial understanding of the terms of reference and the tight submission timeframes imposed under directive from the Commission.

Care providers are now anticipating similar requirements for the recently announced Disability Royal Commission. As expected, the Commission’s terms of reference are extremely broad, and the scope and areas of focus remain uncertain. Providers should look to the experiences of those in the aged care sector to understand the impact and scale of preparation required.

For many organisations, the response process during the Aged Care Royal Commission highlighted the largely self-inflicted business limitations and constraints which result from the use of scattered and siloed data and processes. Many respondents found that this practice complicated and lengthened the submission process, but it also represents an organic efficiency drain on day-to-day operations, threatening the ability of many providers to comply with constant industry changes.

This isn’t news

This information probably contains no surprises, with many providers feeling the pain of functioning on disparate systems in a post-merger or acquisition reality. Little wonder, then, that a recent study from IBRS shows a disproportionately high (relative to other industry sectors surveyed) number of organisations in this segment are investing in new enterprise software or substantially upgrading their existing solutions.

The study found that a staggering 74 per cent of aged, disability and social care service providers are currently mid-implementation of a new system, with a further 16 per cent due to deploy in the next twelve months. The remainder signalled that a replacement system would be installed within three-to-five years.

For those organisations aiming to upgrade rather than replace, 85 per cent will complete that action within the next twelve months. The upshot of this investment is an industry-wide enterprise software overhaul, all concluded within the first five years of the upcoming decade. These are numbers quite unlike those reported by any other surveyed sector and, while some organisations have secured small funding increases to underwrite this investment, many will function on an unchanged budget and seek to realise efficiencies and gains in other areas to offset the initial outlay.

Investing in the future

The resounding focus of the Royal Commissions is delivery of better quality of care, but concern extends beyond current practices and their outcomes, additionally seeking to set a sustainable future path for the industry and the services it provides.

From July 2019, organisations providing aged care services in Australia must be compliant with the new Aged Care Quality Standards and the Commission will assume a program of monitoring and assessment to ensure that compliance.  The new arrangement outlines Organisational Governance obligations and incorporates instruction on information management and reporting, further aligning the current industry trend toward increased enterprise solution investment. The implementation of integrated systems and processes simplifies this reporting process, enabling organisations to satisfy necessary changes while still effectively managing day-to-day operations.

In direct contrast to the paper-based searches carried out by many Commission respondents, an effective document management system provides secure audited storage of records coupled with simple search capability, making it easier to comply with documentation retention policies and changing legislative obligations.

Safe and secure

Interim reports from the Commissions are expected to contain direction and new requirements around the security, privacy, redundancy and sovereignty of information, including patient data.

Despite study participants in the sector claiming to have a solid knowledge of cloud services, 32 per cent signalled a preference for an on-premise enterprise solution. While cloud infrastructure (IaaS) and Software as a Service (SaaS) delivery models were favoured by a combined 47 per cent of respondents, almost one third erroneously believe an on-premise solution – complete with the infrastructure, administrative and resourcing burden that choice entails – represents the optimum model for their organisation.

Security has been touted as a risk of cloud services for a decade. But it’s a myth. Cloud vendors exceed most organisations’ budget and capacity to manage complex cybersecurity risks. Given that Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) recognises protected cloud services are available (in Australia at least), and federal government is moving to cloud-delivered enterprise solutions aggressively, the security excuse is thin at best.

For care providers serious about compliance and the operational efficiencies that a new enterprise solution delivers, a true SaaS solution enables integration across the entire enterprise, rather than simply at a functional level.

True SaaS means the software is developed, maintained, securely managed and supported by the vendor, representing considerable benefit over on-premise alternatives. This enables a reduction in capital expenditure and allows redeployment of resources into strategic activities designed to deliver better patient outcomes.

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