The Global Centre for Modern Ageing, a non-profit research group based in Australia, has published a report that shares the concerns and thoughts of the country's older population in implementing and integrating health technologies in their homes.

Prepared in partnership with Google Chrome Enterprise, the report titled "Inspiring new models of care: Digital health in the home," details the challenges and opportunities for the country's healthcare industry.

It ultimately suggested that coordinated effort is needed to reskill the industry's workforce, validate and shed light upon the most suitable technology, and design models of care that will not compromise quality care provision.

FINDINGS

Based on in-depth interviews with 32 participants, including community members, clinicians and aged care providers, stakeholders have different priorities in their provision of digitally enabled healthcare. But all of them agreed that better health outcomes and more proactive, preventative, and predictive healthcare are priority areas.

In encouraging the use of a digitally enabled model of care, quality of care must remain the top priority, the study noted. Technology as a means to enhance, supplement and improve upon healthcare provision is essential for widespread uptake. However, it should never be designed or implemented to replace the face-to-face provision of healthcare.

Communicating the benefits of technology to all stakeholders will also raise its usage. According to the study, leveraging technologies' preventive and early detection benefits may shift perceptions away from the common thinking that technology is only used to manage poor health or illness. Providers can be encouraged to purchase more tech products if the improvements in care provision and workflow efficiencies will be highlighted.

Citing findings from the October report of the Aged Care Industry Information Technology Council, the report pointed out that 14% of aged care providers are using fully integrated software systems. Less than half of those surveyed said they use any smart home technology. Meanwhile, three-fourths of providers have no digital literacy criteria in their recruitment.

GCMA has identified some opportunities that the healthcare industry must focus on:

- In terms of capacity building, there must be grants to fund assistive technology and home modifications that promote independence in daily living;
- Universal adoption of digital care management systems that are interoperable with My Health Record, the country's digital health record platform;
- Providing "clear evidence" of how technology improves care; and
- Improving digital maturity through review and improvement of digital capabilities "from a broader, more holistic perspective" than incremental changes.

Yet, there are still barriers to digital health adoption that must be resolved across all settings, in aged care, local clinics and hospitals, including:

- Poor digital literacy among staff
- Lack of data
- Interoperability
- Lack of trust in the technology (or a lack of validation)
- Knowledge of available technology
- Legacy IT systems

Other barriers include funding, ROI and reimbursement; lack of or unclear governance standards; poor workflow integration; insufficient or lack of training; data management and response (e.g., security, liability and procedures); funding for access to hardware; workplace culture; technical limitations (e.g., wifi capabilities); and misconceptions of older people and tech use.

"Breaking down barriers through more considered technology design to improve usability, workflow integration, industry standards of interoperability, central and independent information on technology efficacy and safety, and skills development are some of the most apparent steps forward," the study said.

THE LARGER CONTEXT

The Australian government has set aside A$17.7 billion ($13.8 billion) for the aged care sector over the next five years in response to the recommendations by the Royal Commission on Aged Care Quality and Safety for fundamental and systemic reforms in the sector.

In a recent statement, Health and Aged Care Minister Greg Hunt said the investment will "ensure senior Australians have access to high quality and safe care services, are empowered to have more control and choice in their care arrangements and are treated with dignity and respect."

Australia records around 1.3 million citizens accessing aged care services. By 2025, the number of Australians aged over 65 may double to above seven million.

ON THE RECORD

"Digital health is central to enabling people to age in place. Breaking down barriers through more considered technology design is crucial to improving quality of life and care of people as we age," said Julianne Parkinson, CEO of GCMA.

"Including end-users and health care workers in health technology design will improve usability and workflow integration. In addition, providing central and independent information and skills development for [the] industry are some of the clearest steps forward," she added.

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