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Revolutionising aged care: an experience design specialist’s perspective

As an experience design specialist, it is exciting to so often be at the pinnacle of cutting edge solutions as they emerge for various industries. Usually, myself and my crew are at the centre of each new trend, together with our clients who are immersed in their area of speciality, as we determine exactly how these revolutionary solutions can be best introduced for client use.

Over the past decade or so, there has been a great deal of commercial and government focus on the aged care industry. With an ageing population, there is no disputing the fact that aged care itself is rapidly becoming a very important service industry. McCrindle Research (2014, May) suggests that baby boomers will soon add an extra 1.2 million to the number of people over the age of 65, to a grand total of 17 percent of the Australian population.

It also then comes as no surprise that the aged care model, and aged health care more generally, has received pressure from all directions to satisfy increasing client demand, and be more commercial. One important change in attitude has resulted from a shift to consumer directed care, rather government directed – in respect to both products and service. This means that the consumer now has control over service supply, not the provider. One result of this may be a change of culture for suppliers such as understanding how profitability, costing and an optimum price structure works for their business model, and being personally more responsible for their clients’ physical, mental and emotional health.

An overall change from government to private service provision in the aged care and senior health industry, or in fact any industry, is a different mindset in all staff and management. Since the focus is now on commercial assistance and service provision, this means that all aged care and senior health companies need to become more competitive with a stronger focus on profitability.  Not only will the demand increase in general, but so will specific requirements, as clients realise they can become more selective in terms of what product or service they receive, rather than just taking whatever the government offers them.

In order to remain commercially competitive, companies will need to become more creative with their product provision. How can you deliver what clients really want, in a way that is more economical, practical and cutting-edge than your competitors? So many more senior health and aged care service providers are now working with experience design specialists to create and then deliver products and services for this sector that are unique and highly desirable, as well as practical.

Here is one example of what suppliers and experience designers are creating right now.

DesignIt was engaged to work with an aged care facility called Rokilde nursing home in Norway. The request was to facilitate more ‘active ageing’ for their residents, by way of a volunteer service that engages the local community and ensures social care for the elderly. The design thinking process revealed that, as we age, we gradually lose the context of work, life, neighbours, friends and family. This insight became the centrepiece of knowledge behind the brand new service that was created for staff and volunteers.

The service design that resulted was effectively a “buddy” system between members of the local community and inhabitants of the aged care facility. Buddies are carefully matched based on factors like similar interests and personality traits. The result was that buddies could reduce loneliness by suggesting walks and encouraging participation in social activities. With this new service, the resident has a committed friend visiting weekly, resulting in a meaningful and richer everyday life for both buddy and resident.

Providing opportunities for different sectors of the community to mingle with one another is incredibly important. In most towns like those in Australia, we will all likely only communicate with those who are of similar age and demographic to us. Children in a kindergarten will not necessarily meet seniors, and therefore a lot of important opportunities for varied insight is missed out on. The human experience is one that we are all involved in and it’s important to gain an understanding of what’s important to those of different ages, sector, etc.

This is one example of how experience design specialists can transform healthcare and the attitude of all sectors of the community can be set up for a better way of living.

Katja Forbes is international director on the Interaction Design Association Board and MD of Aus/NZ Designit.

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