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ROYAL COMMISSION: Innovation and technology in aged care

The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety held two workshop hearings in Adelaide from March 16-17 covering research, innovation and technology that can and should be utilised in aged care and how to apply new practices in the sector.

Senior Counsel Assisting Peter Rozen QC lead most of the workshops this week, along with his Counsel Assisting team. [Source: Aged Care Royal Commission]
Senior Counsel Assisting Peter Rozen QC lead most of the workshops this week, along with his Counsel Assisting team. [Source: Aged Care Royal Commission]

Commissioners were investigating whether the aged care sector and the Government are putting enough support behind innovative technology developments, and spoke with a range of witnesses and industry experts to understand the barriers to innovation, how to translate the research in aged care practice, and utilise technology to help older Australians.

This was the first set of hearings that would not allow the public into the courtroom due to the risk of coronavirus, instead the public could follow the hearing through the live webcast on the Royal Commission website. Some witnesses gave evidence through videolink.  

Innovation and technology in practice

On 16 March, Commissioners heard from witnesses, Denise Griggs, Relationship Manager at ECH inc in South Australia, and client family member, Damien Harker, as an example of how technology can assist in service delivery.

Mr Harker's father, George, has dementia and receives a Level 4 Home Care Package (HCP). Mr Harker explained how technology, specifically an app on his phone, has helped reduce the stress on the family if their father ever wandered out of his home unexpectedly.

The app is able to collect data of George's daily movements and if anything is out of the ordinary, and allows for ECH to respond to the data they are receiving.

Following the witness evidence, a technology and innovation panel was held with Professor Sue Gordon, Strategic Professor, Chair of Restorative Care in Ageing, Flinders University; Jennene Buckley, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Feros Care; Dr Tanya Petrovich, Business Innovation Manager, Centre for Dementia Learning, Dementia Australia; and Daniella Greenwood, Consultant, Daniella Greenwood & Associates.

Ms Buckley from Feros Care explained that technology has become the foundation of the companies delivery model in how they operate and coordinate their services, and has been put into the hands of staff to help deliver care and provided to clients living at home.

She admitted that while the use of technology is "the future" and plays an "important role in everything we do in our business", the organisation has faced struggles implementing technology in residential care.

"[Staff] don’t have a lot of other time to really want to engage with technology. It has been a difficult process for us when it has come to motivating managers and staff to really engage with technology in residential," says Ms Buckley.

Ms Greenwood, who consults with many different aged care facilities, says that there seems to be confusion around what technology is and isn't, and that implementing ideas in aged care doesn't always translate well.

Dr Petrovich added that technology is an enabler and can be a great way to improve quality of life, however, technology should not be used for the sake of utilising technology, but for improving quality of life and care for all older people.

Data rich but information poor

In the afternoon, Commissioners heard evidence from Barbara Hamilton Ramsay, a Feros Care client in Queensland, about the Virtual Social Centre she utilises to feel social connectedness.

Available on a tablet, the Virtual Social Centre was created by Feros Care to help seniors at home engage with others via guided real-time videos, such as physical movement or mental challenges, guided tours of places, art classes, book clubs and more.

Ms Hamilton Ramsey says this technology has given her meaning and reason to get out of the bed in the morning, and helps with her loneliness and makes her days a lot better.

After the witness evidence, there was a data and research panel with Dr Rob Grenfell, Health Director, Health & Biosecurity, CSIRO; Associate Professor Maria Inacio, Director, Registry of Senior Australians (ROSA), South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute; Ben Lancken, Head of Transformation, Opal Aged Care; and Louise York, Group Head, Community Services Group, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

A running theme with the panel was that the relevant data that could inform research and change is there, but not curated and readily available to analyse.

Ms York believes collected data could be used in different areas, however, the linkages between different "datasets" aren't currently there.

Staff engagement in technology and implementing research into practice 

On March 17, Day 2, the Commission heard from multiple experts, about innovation in education and training of the aged care workforce and the translation of aged care research into practice.

The first industry expert of the day appeared from Canada, Dr Veronique Boscart, Schlegel University of Waterloo, Research Institute for Ageing, explaining how she implements education and training in person centred care villages.

Following Dr Boscart, there were two separate panels talking about the same topic, innovation in education and training of aged care workers. 

The first panel included Dr Kate Barnett OAM, Managing Director of Stand Out Report; Helen Loffler, Manager of Student Participation at Helping Hand; and Megan Corlis, Director of Research and Development at Helping Hand.

The panel talked about the problem with placements for students and presented an example of a special placement program run by Helping Hand that adds both value to their residents but also provides worthwhile experience and education to the students.

The program is matching up the needs of the organisation in aged care with the education requirements of students.

Ms Loffler says it's important that students get value and a worthwhile experience when on placement in aged care. Helping Hand surveys what they need around residential care and what partnerships they can make with different student groups.

The second panel consisted of Professor James Vickers, Director of the Wicking Dementia Research and Education Centre and Glenview board member; and Professor Emeritus Andrew Robinson, Wicking Dementia Research and Education Centre.

The pair provided evidence that there is a strong desire for education in dementia and staff wanting to apply that education in their professional lives.

Professor Vickers says that the Wicking Dementia Education Centre's MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses) are hugely successful and very accessible to a variety of people.

There are over 40,000 MOOC's worldwide and the Wicking Dementia Understanding Dementia MOOC is number five in the world.

Around two-thirds of viewers are from Australia and a large majority of that cohort is either family or health professionals.

He says there is an obvious need for high-quality education that can speak to people no matter their education and where they are living with dementia.

The last panel was around translating aged care research into practice, which included  Professor Steven Wesselingh, South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute Executive Director and National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Research Committee Chair; Ms Julianne Parkinson, CEO of Global Centre for Modern Ageing; and Adjunct Professor Judy Lowthian, Principal Research Fellow and Head of Research at Bolton Clarke Research Institute, along with two other experts.

There was group discussion around the success and the implementation of co-design in aged care, which involves experts or care professionals working with their consumers and communities.

Ms Parkinson mentioned that involving consumers in the research of aged care practices will more likely make a new project or method successful.

Adj. Professor Lowthian added that multiple projects at Bolton Clarke involve community workshops, which have proved that people want to be involved in creating better aged care services and products.

Professor Wesselingh explained that the NHMRC has a big interest in co-design work because of the benefits that come from working with community and consumers.

"Researchers are engaging much more with community and consumers and leading to co-design of research… NHMRC is very interested in research that has been co-designed so that the questions are co-designed as well as the process to lead to answers for those questions," says Professor Wesselingh. 

The next Royal Commission hearing is running from 30 March to 1 April, exploring mental health, oral health and allied health care in aged care and how to improve peoples access to aged care services.

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