How technology can transform the aged-care sector to improve patient care

By Christian Nejm, Head of Government and Health at Accenture Strategy
Monday, 09 August, 2021

How technology can transform the aged-care sector to improve patient care

Technology is perhaps the greatest tool the healthcare industry has to innovate better outcomes for patients. There’s almost no limit to what can be achieved through the application of technology, so much so that the digital healthcare industry is expected to reach US$220 billion by 2026.

However, the healthcare sector is an ecosystem made up of many parts, and while some areas are leaders in the adoption and application of technology — think R&D, genomics, diagnostics and some providers — others have been less receptive to innovation. In particular, the aged-care sector, which has been notoriously slow at adopting technology.

Aged care in the past has tended to take a more conservative approach to innovation and technology — with funding and resources being put into more physical infrastructure such as beds. This has been a winning formula for a long time — but this strategy simply won’t hold up in today’s digital world. Systemic change is required at every level of the aged-care industry if it truly wants to innovate, and technology can help drive that.

Australia’s Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety shone a light on the state of aged care in Australia and the key areas for improvement. Technology can clearly play a role here — obvious areas are workforce, financial reporting, risk and compliance, consumer engagement — the list goes on. The aged-care providers that can digitise quickly will reap the rewards, while the laggards will be left behind to the ultimate detriment of their patients.

The sector has traditionally operated on a not-for-profit basis, but savvy investors are increasingly picking up on the opportunity within aged care and the value creation that can be generated by digital. We can expect that more money will continue to be poured into efforts to make the industry profitable.

For aged-care providers to successfully incorporate technology into patient care, they’ll need to ensure their systems are futureproofed for the changing nature of patient care at home. One of the biggest trends that providers must acknowledge is the increasing number of patients that are staying at home longer, and the shift of increased funding options becoming available for home care. It’s imperative that the aged-care industry acts on this development and shifts its focus towards home care. This way, providers can enable services to better manage the entire patient lifecycle, including virtual solutions and services carried out in the home instead of aged-care facilities, as they transition to new living conditions.

The workforce will also need to broaden its talent pool to accommodate for clinical resources and highly skilled workers to enable new technology and innovation. Greater investment in HR and education in conjunction with technology will help providers attract and retain better talent. One of the biggest roadblocks that aged-care providers face is the burden of time-consuming administration due to the lack of investment in technology that could offer more efficient processes. Lifting this burden will help carers get back to focusing on doing just that: caring for their patients.

A big emphasis of the sector is putting patients at the centre. Many providers have a range of services that can support the patient throughout their life stages, but without the technology to be able to support the transition of information from one service to the next. For example, if a patient moves from a retirement village to residential care, their information won’t necessarily move with them even though the retirement village and the residential care facility are part of the same organisation.

Luckily there’s no shortage of technology vendors who have spotted the opportunity for digital disruption and have begun selling bespoke solutions for the aged-care sector — global leaders in technology are now creating aged-care-specific solutions and modules. It’s up to individual aged-care providers to take the initiative to seek out better ways to take care of their patients through technology.

When adopting new technology, aged-care providers should take the lead from the broader healthcare industry, which has two main goals: it has to be easy to use and must be focused on improving patient outcomes. It’s not enough to just roll out new technology alone — systemic change is necessary to drive innovation in the aged-care industry, not just for the bottom line, but for the good of the most important part of aged care: the patients.

Image credit: © Lund

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