Digital disruptors: how technology can help restore the balance of power

Despite some industry resistance, technology platforms have an important role to play in advancing the government’s agenda to hand back greater choice and control to older Australians, writes Peter Scutt.

Despite some industry resistance, technology platforms have an important role to play in advancing the government’s agenda to hand back greater choice and control to older Australians, writes Peter Scutt.

Peter Scutt
Peter Scutt

Five years ago I was looking for care for my parents. My mum, an octogenarian with dementia, and dad, in his nineties and very frail, were managing the emotional upheaval that can come with a rotating workforce of carers coming in and out of their home. In the end, my father felt as if their home was being invaded, and started turning away the care that they desperately needed.

Since then, regulatory changes and emerging technology-based solutions have started to disrupt the aged care industry, historically dominated by large, traditional, faith-based providers. However, despite being desperately needed, this disruption has often sparked debate and resistance at the expense of action.

The industry has been slow to adapt in part, due to the resistance against technology-based solutions; the argument being that any solution that uses the Internet must be fraught with potential dangers. This argument plays well to an ageing community who did not grow up with the World Wide Web.

In a lot of ways, debates around disruptive business models have masked some of the most significant improved outcomes they can deliver for aged care as a whole – particularly when you consider that many of these new approaches encourage greater self-direction for clients accessing care services.

For example, the WA Home and Community Care (HACC) program recently funded a two-year trial, which saw 100 aged care recipients handed back the autonomy to choose and hire their care workers directly. The initial results, assessed by Curtin University, are demonstrating the kind of outcomes users can expect when consumers are independently able to make decisions around their care.

In the context of historical industry resistance, the community should celebrate the study – the more that traditional, established care providers get on board, the more the industry as a whole will advance the government’s agenda on consumer choice and control.

The results of the WA trial demonstrate the positive effects of innovation for both the industry and the individual. Market demand is growing much faster than the industry can evolve; it is the disruptors that have the agility to respond quickly to changing consumer behaviours and needs. While trials take place, they take a long time, and demand for new service delivery models grows daily.

Rather than focusing on risk that digital solutions provide, there are many consumers who believe that it is the digital community, by its very nature, that provides sophisticated consumer protection standards.

As strong advocates of the community rating system, online consumers have restored the balance of power to demand a higher level of service and support across a number of sectors. In an aged care context, technology delivers a transparent and an affordable marketplace that leverages a skilled, capable, motivated workforce like never before. Rigorous industry standards around on-boarding processes are streamlined and users are able to make informed decisions with confidence of quality and consistency, and provide direct feedback on the service they receive.

Ironically, if you visit the Federal Government’s online portal designed to provide information to consumers about their aged care options, you won’t find mention of some of the most responsive business models designed specifically to deliver on the very promise made by the government to give users choice and control.

Ultimately though, this is not an issue of technology, but one of dignity. For too long, the industry has denied ageing Australians the ability to make decisions about their own life, decisions which may involve a reasonable amount of risk.

Every day, when I choose to leave my house, get behind the wheel of a car, or walk across the street, I’m making risky decisions. The belief that once we reach a certain age we should be denied the independence to make these judgements is misguided.

From February 27 this year, 80 000 consumers with Home Care Packages will have the ability to move their money to a different service, and there are many progressive providers that are working to deliver and maximise the choices available to their clients.

There’s a growing groundswell of those who ardently believe that quality in human services should no longer be heavily regulated, but ultimately be judged by the consumer themselves. That’s not to say one solution fits all; it doesn’t. But for those who have the ability, and the desire, technology can give individuals the freedom to exercise real choice about who comes into their home, and what support they need in their day to day life.

Peter Scutt is the founder and CEO of Better Caring.

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Tags: better caring, choice, control, digital-disruption, hacc, home-care-packages, opinion, Peter Scutt, risk, technology,

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