Post-election, advocates are imploring government to prioritise measures to alleviate the chronic workforce shortages in the aged care industry.
But companies in the technology space are looking for novel solutions to decrease labour demands and increase efficiency, all through the power of artificial intelligence.
Jason Waller, CEO of Intelicare, an Australian technology company that employs smart-sensor technology to help aged care and NDIS recipients, says that the role of assistive technologies in charting a way out of the crisis needs greater recognition.
“[Labor’s] promised $2.5 billion overhaul of the sector includes requiring a registered nurse to be on-site 24 hours a day and mandating that every Australian living in aged care receives a minimum of 215 minutes of care per day, as recommended by the royal commission into the sector.
“However, these results cannot be achieved without addressing the critical staffing shortage.”
Waller tells Aged Care News that remedying the workforce crisis will be difficult via worker recruitment alone.
“There is a major structural problem in aged care that I think the whole industry has been talking about for a while: the ageing population is outstripping both the taxpayer base and just the number of aged care workers,” he says.
“Therefore, injecting cash without a plan to innovate will not solve the aged care crisis.
Waller says that modernised systems of care, where workers on the ground are aided by smart technology, will go a long way to bridging the gap in workforce demand.
“What technology does in all industries is increase the productivity of staff by helping them work smarter,” Waller says.
According to Waller, facilitating a larger proportion of older Australians to age in place, in their own homes, is the key to reducing exponential demand on the workforce.
How technology can do this, in Waller’s experience, is by providing a greater amount of information to in-home carers, so that deterioration in health and wellbeing can be managed before it declines to the level requiring entry to acute hospital care, or residential aged care.
“Carers don’t always see what is happening when they’re not there and the elderly aren’t always upfront with the things that they’re needing, because they’re trying to just soldier on and do the best they can and they’re concerned about being a burden to others.
“With this technology, we’re identifying deterioration further upstream, so we’re reducing the number of people that end up in residential aged care.
“So, residential care becomes a bit of a safety net, not a destination. If we can take some of the pressure off there, it allows those overworked staff to address the people that need their [acute] care.”
As with many introductions of tech into workplaces, a natural question of concern then might be, at what point does technology like this risk putting health care workers out of a job?
According to Waller, smart technology creates stronger linkages to a range of services, including allied health, whilst reducing unnecessary burden on primary care workers.
“An example of this is, we had a 90-plus-year-old gentleman, living on his own.
“He added IntelliLiving in, and one of the things we monitor is their meal preparation — and his evening meal prep started to decline.
“If that happens once or twice, we don’t worry about that, but if there’s a larger trend, the AI that we set up sends out a notice to his care-workers so that they can go in and say ‘we’ve noticed a change in your meals, what’s going on?’
In an amusing turn of events, it turned out the client had discovered Uber Eats and was ordering Chiko Rolls for dinner, daily.
“Now under a consumer-directed care model, that’s his right and privilege, he’s 90-plus, he can do what he wants,” Waller notes.
“But what they did was then they brought in a dietician and put in a nutritional supplement in [his] breakfast and lunch, so that he’s not going to suffer from malnutrition or dehydration.
“So now he’s living the life he wants to live; his carers now have a better idea of what his normal pattern is; and everyone’s happy because, otherwise, that would have gone unnoticed and potentially resulted in an adverse outcome in the future.”
A common concern with sensors and smart analytics is the privacy risk they potentially pose to citizens.
However, Waller insists that in the context of aged care, it is quite the opposite.
“You share your private life with your carers already, particularly your family, and they’re going to become more and more interested and more concerned if you’re left unattended.
“So having this sort of techology actually alleviates that concern and restores that relationship with your family.
“It actually increases privacy because you’re not suddenly being rung up every day — ‘are you alive, Dad? I’m worried’.
“They know you’re OK, so they’re not tracking your every move.”
Secondly, Waller says that in-home technological interventions are far less invasive than life in residential aged care.
“What you’re trying to do is stay in your own home, but if you end up in residential aged care, the fact is, you’ve lost a lot of privacy in that.
“So [this technology] is actually a way of retaining your privacy over the longer run.
“The feedback from our clients is that it just blends into the background.
“They describe it as a guardian angel rather than as Big Brother.”
Looking ahead, Waller would like to see supportive technological equipment incorporated into all home care packages.
“What we’re saying is technology— not just ours but anyone’s — should form part of the initial Home Care Package as a mandatory element.
“So this is this is all about prevention, rather than just doing something after an accident.”
More about Intelicare
Intelicare is a company that is harnessing the latest internet of things technology to augment care.
Using a variety of sensors, their InteliLiving system senses elders’ movements throughout their home, using the data to not only sense when something is wrong in the moment, but predict potential incidents in the future.
InteliLiving is currently available under NDIS funding and some home-care packages.