Australia embarks on 'first phase' of its digital transformation of aged care following royal commission – Healthcare IT News

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Australia’s Department of Health has embarked on the “first phase of the journey” in its ambitious digital transformation agenda for aged care by calling on industry volunteers to codesign APIs needed for data sharing with the federal government.
Speaking at the Department’s first “Tech Talk” webinar into the substantial digitisation program, Fay Flevras, First Assistant Secretary for the Digital Transformation and Delivery Division, said, “Today is the first step, certainly, in engaging specifically around the technology” that will help in delivering “a once in a generation aged care reform”.
In 2021, the Aged Care Royal Commission’s final report led the Australian Government to agree, or agree in principle, to 126 of 148 recommendations to improve the sector and announce an $18.8 billion reform package. Of those recommendations, over 30 are significantly dependent on ICT and digital enablers to implement.
“Importantly, all of this relies on a connected, streamlined, interoperable, digital ecosystem, a better connected aged care network that is consolidated, standardised, automated and modern,” Flevras said.
Consumer access to their data, eradicating duplication, more time for staff to provide care, improved crisis response, better evaluation of service provision, and improved data quality and data sharing are just some of the expectations of a new, digital aged care sector.
“The current infrastructure and design of aged care systems don’t support the increased maturity and responsiveness that we demand in our daily lives and across government and in your aged care facilities,” she said.
This is not an exercise in “tech for tech’s sake”, according to Flevras, but was a significant program of work that would harness digital capabilities to solve ongoing aged care challenges.
“First, moving to a consolidated, modern and automated aged care system isn’t an insignificant undertaking. It won’t happen overnight and despite our best efforts it’s unlikely we’re going to get it right the first time or be perfect. Secondly, to be successful we need to work in partnership across government and within the sector. And thirdly, improving our customer experience remains at the core of all of our efforts to bring innovation to the digital ecosystem.
“This is not about tech for tech’s sake but it’s about enabling digital change through people, process and the tools needed to enable the benefits for our customers.”
Flevras asked for “some volunteers who, in the sector, would like to codesign some of those APIs” needed to communicate between industry software and the Department’s My Aged Care platform.
“This is the first phase of the journey where we’re just laying some of the foundations and we need to get our business-to-government gateway and those public APIs started.”
The royal commission found that “substandard care and abuse pervades the Australian aged care system”.
It also found that the sector is deeply analogue.
“The aged care system is well behind other sectors in the use and application of technology, and has no clear information and communications technology strategy. This mix of factors has resulted in an aged care sector that is behind the research, innovation and technological curves.”
Laura Toyne, Australian Digital Health Agency’s Acting Branch Manager, Program and Project Delivery, Digital Programs and Engagement Division, said that in response the agency will work towards universal adoption of My Health Record.
“There is a very heavy reliance at the moment on those paper based or very manual systems and they’re quite common in aged care and we know that and we see that all the time,” Toyne said.
“One of the key recommendations for us that came out of the royal commission which we will act on is to connect those clinical information systems that operate and exist in aged care into My Health Record so they can be that common repository of information about a patient’s or a resident’s healthcare status.”
Flevaras said a recent study into the use of clinical software found that over 40 per cent of providers manually upload data to the government. Over a third of those providers don’t have a clear IT investment strategy and 40 per cent of the clinical provider systems are not integrated.
“Our aspiration is we get automated to where we have an open health data standard where we have APIs enabling providers and software systems to directly pass the information from you to us in real time or as appropriate,” she said.
The sector is facing increasing demands from an ageing population with increasing frailty. Australians are living longer and the number aged 85 years and over is projected to increase from 515,700 in 2018–19 to more than 1.5 million by 2058.
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