How COVID-19 has exposed the need for telehealth in aged and assisted care
COVID-19 outbreaks have devastated residential aged-care facilities across Australia and the world, as the sector grapples to balance the risks associated with the virus and maintain high levels of patient care. However, from virtual hospitals to video calls with GPs, innovations in telehealth are transforming the industry and pointing the way forward post-pandemic.
Earlier this year, the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety revealed that innovation and technology can and should be utilised across Australian aged-care facilities and those living with assisted care at home.
The coronavirus pandemic has only solidified this finding, exposing cracks in the assisted care industry’s capacity to support some of Australia’s most vulnerable residents. Through forced isolation, facility lockdowns and reduced contact with carers and loved ones, not only is the health and safety of elderly residents put in jeopardy, so too is their mental wellbeing. The US National Institute of Health linked social isolation and loneliness to a number of physical and mental conditions, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, anxiety and depression, to name a few.
Tunstall Health and Community Account Manager Alishya Gillham, from Australian provider of connected care and health solutions Tunstall Healthcare, said the pandemic has amplified these existing problems in the older population.
“The pandemic has identified long-standing issues associated with monitoring and staying connected with our ageing Australians,” she said.
“With the elderly being distanced from the majority of their support network, we are seeing a direct impact on mental and physical health. This is particularly poignant in aged-care facilities where interactions with staff and residents are limited due to social distancing restrictions.”
Technology can provide a gateway to human help, maintain social support and ensure elderly loved ones are being cared for around the clock. Gillham believes implementing technology-enabled care services into aged care and private homes can benefit our elderly friends and relatives, providing those close to the individual peace of mind.
“Digital communication over the phone or through messaging apps is extremely helpful for some of our clients; however, not all ageing Australians have access or the knowledge to manage these ‘everyday devices’.
“That’s where Tunstall’s products such as our Tunstall Smart Hub, SmartLink Medi Guardian, Find-me Watch and GO pendant become extremely valuable as our clients can call through to the 24/7 Customer Care Centre and speak to the team about anything they like. Whether they’ve had an incident and need medical support or just need someone to talk to, the team are able to connect clients to the right help,” she said.
Residents are not the only people struggling with the current state of the nation — the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation’s Aged Care COVID-19 Survey paints a bleak image of the sector during the pandemic. The survey found less than 40% of staff believed their aged-care home was ready to deal with a COVID-19 outbreak and less than 30% of staff had enough personal protective equipment. Perhaps even more concerning is that aged-care workers are reporting significant levels of stress, pressure and a lack of support.
In response to the pandemic, Tunstall Healthcare has developed a COVID-19 Screening Tool through its Connected Health Service to allow clients to connect with a healthcare professional, who will use web questionnaires, chat or videoconferencing to help identify potential cases or simply alleviate concerns.
Gillham said providing the service reduces the burden on aged-care and healthcare workers as well as minimising the potential of contracting the virus.
“The tool provides a further reference point for aged-care residents, their families and the associated staff at their facility. It allows care providers to collect health interview data remotely, track that data over time and identify where people may be at risk to conduct further screening and testing if needed. This provides peace of mind for residents, families and staff in knowing that potential risks are being monitored and managed effectively,” she said.
At the core of Tunstall’s Connected Health service lives the Integrated Care Platform (ICP), which provides clinicians, patients and caregivers with a secure and flexible healthcare management system.
ICP supports remote monitoring of patient vital signs and health conditions from their own home — numerous case studies have shown that telemonitoring improved the quality of life and clinical outcomes for people with long-term conditions. It also helps people understand and manage their own health, and in some instances, leads to a reduction in hospital visits.
Healthcare provides monitored assistive technology solutions to support people with a wide variety of care requirements to live safely and independently in their own home. Tunstall’s range of Connected Healthcare products includes basic personal alarms through to fully integrated home care solutions.
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