For the last two years, a trial has been underway in a suburban Canberra nursing home.
- Staff handovers in aged care homes can be time-consuming, and take up to 90 minutes
- But a trial of a new IT system has cut that down to as little as 10 minutes
- Experts say better technology is crucial for improving outcomes in aged care
It might not sound like much, but the trial — in the form of a new information technology ecosystem called ACE — is dramatically changing the way care is delivered.
And it all comes down to the most precious commodity: time.
“I can clearly see the staff members interacting more with the residents,” Joana Fernando, a registered nurse and educator at Jindalee Aged Care in Narrabundah, said.
“Now they are more comfortable. Residents are able to have a chat with them.”
Handover, the process when the staff on shift change, has traditionally been a huge consumer of time in aged care homes. Files for each resident, noting all the care provided each day, were paper-based and needed to be signed off by the head nurse at the end of each shift.
It was not uncommon for handover to take up to 90 minutes. But ACE, formally known as the “Aged Care Ecosystem”, has changed that for the 250 staff at the facility.
It works via an app on smartphones or tablet, with each of the 170 residents having a profile, and information such as medications, personal care (like showering), and meal requirements all recorded in real time.
Almost all the information about resident care is already in the system and can be shared with staff coming on shift.
Handover times have shrunk to as little as 10 minutes, meaning staff can spend more time with residents.
Tech gives staff more time to spend with residents
Associate professor Kasia Bail from the University of Canberra led a team to evaluate ACE’s performance.
Dr Bail’s evaluation found it led to a 20 per cent increase in productivity, equivalent to an additional 96 minutes per staff member per full-time shift.
“What it’s mainly done is improve the quality of information that [staff] can access, and the speed at which they can access it,” she said.
When new staff members come on shift and check the ACE, they can see all the care and notes for each resident. They can go back up to two years to see a detailed care history.
Healthcare tech ‘stuck in another generation’
Much of the attention in next week’s federal budget is expected to be focused on aged care.
There’s speculation billions of dollars in funding will be announced to address the litany of flaws identified by the aged care royal commission.
It identified outdated technology as one barrier to improving aged care.
And, the experts say, the ACE system is helping address one of the key requirements; that each resident receive at least 200 minutes of care per day by 2022.
“Healthcare tech is stuck in another generation,” Marie Bismark, a public health doctor and lawyer from the University of Melbourne, said.
“I regularly use faxes. I’m still writing prescriptions using carbon copy paper.”
Dr Bismark believes systems like the ACE are critical to improving aged care.
“Better technology will be essential to complement the expertise of nurses, caregivers, and managers,” she said.
In a statement, the Department of Health, which funded the trial, said it was impressed with the system’s evaluation results.
“The government regards the trial results as promising, particularly in relation to reduced errors in recording data and increased time nursing staff are spending with clients rather than on administrative tasks,” it said.
But the department also said it “does not specify software requirements or specific products for aged care providers to use”.
“Further rollout of the product will therefore depend on commercial negotiations between Humanetix [the developer] and aged care providers,” it said.
Residents appreciate extra time with staff
Council on the Ageing chief executive Ian Yates said he hoped ACE would be adopted by aged care providers.
“The federal government has funded an innovative piece of work … a long-term trial with proper evaluation … and the outcomes are really, really positive,” he said.
Mr Yates believes new technology could be a huge step forward for transparency and accountability in aged care.
“I think that communication between the facility and family, facilitating that in real time, is revolutionary,” he said.
“We need to see the sector shaken up because there is no excuse for them not using these kinds of tools.”
Back at Jindalee, 93-year-old resident Muriel Wilkinson just appreciates the extra time staff can spend with her.
“I can ask one of the staff whether they’ve got time to talk to me,” she said.
“So, they come in and sit on the bed and we talk for 10 minutes perhaps. I find that comforting.
“It’s reassuring to know there’s somebody who can listen.”