This year would have been an eventful one for the aged care sector even without COVID-19. With it, 2020 was a watershed moment. COVID-19 was, as the Aged Care Royal Commission put it, the greatest challenge the aged care sector has ever faced.
Three-quarters of deaths from COVID-19 in Australia have been in aged care homes. Experts say that the pandemic exposed systemic weaknesses. Unfortunately, my prediction in 2019 that 2020 would be a big year for the sector came true in all the wrong ways.
With its budget announcement of $1.6 billion for 23,000 additional home care packages, the government has taken a significant step in the right direction to support the sector’s ability to support thousands more elderly Australians who need and want to receive care where they feel most comfortable – at home. Their numbers are only likely to increase in the wake of COVID-19.
The government’s funding will also go some way towards helping to relieve the additional financial burden that has come about as a result of COVID-19, which was only somewhat offset by the three temporary funding packages to support aged care providers in responding to COVID-19 announced in March and May 2020.
Yet it won’t go far enough. As the Aged Care Financing Authority’s eighth report on the funding and financing of the aged care industry, released in July 2020, noted: COVID-19 imposed additional costs on providers and has the potential to cause significant financial disruption as well as bring into question the viability of a number of providers.
“The underlying difficulties confronting the aged care… have intensified. And these underlying difficulties still need to be addressed,” the report said.
More recently, independent thinktank the Grattan Institute proposed Australia move to a new rights-based model of aged care because the current approach “is a mess and is not fit for purpose”. It argued the government should immediately create a $1 billion “rescue fund” to force the worst residential aged care providers to lift their quality or get out, according to the report.
As we look ahead to what we hope will be a better 2021 for the sector, I wanted to share my predictions – or hopes – for how the sector can evolve to improve its viability and ability to support those who need it more.
Technology will be required to drive more efficiency and better-quality management
Currently most providers in the market are at the lower end of the preparedness scale when it comes to cloud technology. Around 50 per cent have no client management system in place at all and have quite a way to go to get their houses in order.
There is, however, clearer understanding than ever that technology, and cloud in particular, is the way to achieve improved cost-effectiveness and quality of care in the sector.
Going into 2021, I expect that increased pressures within the sector will result in growing investment in cloud-based technologies to support more efficient business to government (B2G) interaction between aged care providers and the government.
Additional funding alone is not enough. Complex and manual processes have for too long meant elderly applicants have to wait anywhere from six months to a year to access the home care package funding.
By using cloud-based technologies and allowing more frictionless B2G engagement, the aged care sector has the potential to access more accurate and up-to-date information on clients entering the system, such as assessments, case notes, funding history and demographics – enabling them to not only streamline and accelerate existing processes but to do so at a lower cost.
This can drive greater efficiencies in processing times, as well as improving how the government allocates its funding, to ensure care is reaching those who need it in a timely way.
Expect the same in the community care and disability sectors. Currently, we face a situation in which outdated IT systems and poor integration of service providers in the National Disability Insurance Scheme has led to long wait times for many vulnerable clients.
Through improved use of cloud technology and B2G, providers can access accurate information quickly, anywhere and at any time. If providers were able to gain greater access to accurate and timely information from the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA), including consumer details such as contacts and notes, assessments, financial package balances, and other information held by the NDIA, this would enhance the customer experience significantly.
This will help to get more from each care dollar, improve resource optimisation and allow for better client engagement through customer portal interfaces which support self-management – a key element of client-centred care.
I also forecast that we will see a greater uptake of self-service and digital engagement tools in the aged care and community care sectors in 2020. This will also improve client-centred care, giving elderly and vulnerable Australians more control over the care they receive by allowing them to access and actively participate in their care plans, purchase and manage services as well as their funding packages.
The risk of a less positive outcome
The biggest risk facing the aged care and disability sectors in 2021 is that the implementation of digital technology takes too long, leaving providers to operate using manual and complex processes. This often creates long wait times for vulnerable applicants who require immediate support. It will be essential to accelerate the time in which digital technologies are implemented so that providers can streamline workflows and have improved visibility over funds.
As the Aged Care Financing Authority states, among the challenges facing providers, consumers and the Government is to “continue to advance the reforms needed to ensure that Australia has an efficient, equitable and sustainable aged care industry which delivers safe, quality care”.
COVID-19 or not, the Australian population is ageing and there will be an increase in demand for aged care services and a need to expand the services funded by the NDIS. 2021 is the year when technology must begin to play an even greater role in how the aged care and disability sectors meet this demand – and supports those in the sectors today, both staff and clients.
Craig Porte is managing director of Civica Care.Do you have an idea for a story?
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