Technology’s role in overhauling the aged care sector

As the home care sector looks for ways to stretch each dollar, there’s a clear role for technology to play in helping care dollars go further.

As the home care sector looks for ways to stretch each dollar, there’s a clear role for technology to play in helping care dollars go further, writes Craig Porte.

Craig Porte

With more and more people choosing to stay at home rather than go into residential care, this has placed focus on the funding of home care packages. According to the Aged Care Royal Commission’s interim report, some 16,000 people died while on a waiting list for home care.

People prefer to see out their last years and months in their homes and in their communities, and it’s not hard to see why. Statistics tell us that most aged care residents (91 per cent) will die there, 40 per cent of them within the first nine months.

The challenge that was highlighted by the interim report is two-fold: there are simply not enough home care packages and the allocation of those packages is inefficient due to the process of waitlisting, qualification, assessment and interfacing with clients and their service providers. This is a challenge that remains to be addressed by the government.

Regardless of how the government decides to fix this problem and fund aged care, the sector must find ways to stretch each dollar that comes into the sector further. On the service provider’s end, there’s a clear role for technology to play in helping care dollars go further, ensuring better quality of life for older Australians.

Large administration fees

One of the major issues highlighted in the Aged Care Royal Commission’s interim report was very high and non-transparent administration fees. This has meant that in some cases, clients were being charged up to 60 per cent of their subsidy in administration fees. This fits with what we see frequently in the sector.

Some issues that contribute to this problematic reality cannot be addressed through technology. It’s clear that many service providers have rigid employee benefit agreements (EBAs) with their staff, including penalty rates that increase overheads significantly. Excessive layers of middle management and multiple offices are also factors.

There are some issues which could be addressed through uptake of more modern technology. In particular, too many service providers require staff who are regularly out in the field to have to come back to the office to process paperwork, access documents, or process their roster.

With the advent of mobile devices in everyone’s pocket comes huge potential to change all of this, and with it, bring an enormous reduction in time spent on travel and paperwork by workers and a reduction in related cost particularly in the back-office. It also means staff are more flexible with less need to be in an office and service providers are using this to reduce their office footprint.

Elsewhere, with the help of technology, some providers have already moved to put in place centralised contact centres that deal with rostering and inquiries, which can cut cost across their operations and reduce these heavy administration costs. Others have taken the opportunity to push certain practices down the line, allowing those who are doing the care planning to set up a roster with the client directly, rather than having to return with paperwork to the head office.

There’s further opportunity to achieve cost reductions by addressing how service packages are shared with service providers, many of whom have to manually key in data once they receive the information from the government. With greater interoperability between government and providers, this doubling-up of work on the provider side could be minimised.

Quality control

Perhaps the greatest concern in the Aged Care Royal Commission’s interim report is of course the findings around the quality of those providing the service. The commission heard last March that some 80 per cent of applicants seeking to provide a home care service to ageing Australians are “bottom feeders” who see the sector as nothing more than a “business opportunity”.

Going forward, it’s clear that we can and should expect there to be more compliance and reporting on quality and practices around services to limit this and other failings. In order to meet the requirements efficiently, aged care providers will need to have appropriate technology such as client management systems that allow the collection of quality and compliance information to manage their responsibilities, including reporting on how they’ve spent the money they’ve been allocated, what was delivered, and providing the service feedback from the client involved. Those who are not able to do this – or do it in a cost-effective way – will increasingly be pushed out of the market.

Our hope is that the government will step up to the plate to provide more substantial funding to the aged care sector as this is crucial not only for care, but also the technological upgrades that will enable this care to be delivered more efficiently and sustainably going forward.

 Craig Porte is Managing Director at Civica Care

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