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Monday, August 15, 2022

RMIT-Cisco Health Transformation Lab reveals potential for a futuristic response to aged care royal commission

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Smart technology has a vital role to play in realising aged care reforms, according to a new report released by RMIT-Cisco Health Transformation Lab.

Launching their 42-page report, Transforming Aged Care: Towards a future in which digitisation clasps hands with respect, and connection drives improvement, in Melbourne on Thursday, the multidisciplinary research team contends that smart sensors, artificial intelligence and robotics can directly aid in accelerating the application of some key recommendations from the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety.

Professor Vishaal Kishore, executive chair of the RMIT-Cisco Health Transformation Lab, says that technology can and should be core to generating a quality-driven aged care system.

“The report argues that digital transformation is critical to creating an aged care system that can be scaled to meet the future needs and provide the respect and quality that is the motivating force of carers, the aim of providers, and the right of every user of the system.

“Put simply, technology enables us to treat the elderly with respect.

“In order to respect somebody, I have to first perceive that person, I need to understand them, the whole person and their needs and preferences … and then I need to act towards them in a way that upholds their dignity.

“That which is not connected cannot be perceived, and that which cannot be perceived cannot be respected …  and so, if we want respect in our system, we first have to connect the different people and parts of our system together.

“What’s brilliant about these new waves of technologies is that they are extraordinarily good at connection.”

Professor Vishaal Kishore, executive chair of the RMIT-Cisco Health Transformation Lab, says that technology can be used to repair some of the deepest systemic flaws in the aged care system.

Ben Dawson, vice president of Cisco Australia and New Zealand, says that the collaboration brings together the best of Australia’s health research and technology capabilities.

“The Health Transformation Lab offers a technology-rich environment and a new model of collaboration in which technologies come together to create solutions that address specific needs in aged care.

“This offers the opportunity to accelerate the effectiveness and impact to tackle the Commission’s key recommendations, today.” 

Experimentation with new technologies trialled on-site

Within the Health Transformation Lab is the RMIT-Cisco Sandbox, a purpose built, modular hub that simulates a variety of aged care environments, such as a bedroom, a computer area with telehealth facilities, and a communal lounge.

Within these areas, researchers have been trialling and demonstrating the application of their latest innovations, including:

  • Smart sensors that can detect the risk of falls 
  • Technology that can detect behavioural risks, such as conflict in common areas  
  • Devices that can alert people of physical hazards, in real time 
  • Technology that alerts surface disruption and stalled behaviour (such as not eating a meal) 
  • Facial recognition and radio frequency identification technologies to assist with the automatic capturing of face-to-face care time   
  • A robotic dog, used to perform typically manual tasks like deliveries  

“These are not some far-flung futures in the Star Trek universe, these are possibilities that are here today,” Kishore says.

Nithya Solomon, director of the RMIT Cisco Health Transformation Lab, demonstrates fall detection sensors as applied in residenyial aged care.

Furthermore, facial and body recognition sensors are being trialled by the Lab as a means of automatically monitoring care minutes received by aged care residents.

“In this way, collection of direct, face-to-face care provision just became automated, verifiable, and it doesn’t need to depend on manual record keeping alone,” Nidya Solomon, director of the RMIT Cisco Health Transformation Lab, says.

Kishore also notes that, where possible, smart technology should take the place of non-care administration activities, freeing workers’ time to be on the ground, there to help residents where they are needed most.

“Digital technology can be a really wonderful way of helping carers to move to the top of their licence, optimising the time they are spending in face-to-face care activities, and ensuring those care minutes are really top notch,” Kishore says.

Development would be needed, however, to find a mechanism to distinguish specific care workers entering a space: ie. distinguishing care delivered by a registered nurse from that of a personal care worker.

Solomon discusses the application of smart sensors and computing to automate record keeping of care minutes in residential aged care.

The report also highlights the mismatch between the basic digital facilities available in most residential aged care homes and the burgeoning digital literacy of the older generation.

While more than 61 per cent of older people use the internet, very few aged care providers offer wireless internet access as standard for residents, less than half use any smart technology, and only 14 per cent are using fully integrated software systems.  

With any smart sensor technology comes the potential to collect vast sets of data, which offer the potential for ongoing research and development and/or commercial application.

But an RMIT-Cisco Health Transformation Lab spokesperson tells Aged Care News that, right now, any technologies used in aged care will not be used for the purpose of data mining, instead prioritising privacy.

“The purpose of the demonstrations we’ve put together to deploy IoT [internet of things] in aged care is first and foremost to improve care and working conditions for carers,” they said.

“The role of spaces like this is to create opportunities in which the technology can be demonstrated, and start conversations to consider the possibilities of technology. 

“Any partnership with providers would need to go through the relevant research ethics approval processes … informed consent is one of the absolute bedrocks of research ethic and no research like this would go ahead without it.”

The RMIT-Cisco Sandbox provides a space to simulate aged care targeted smart technology before it is trialled within real care settings. BIANCA ROBERTS.

More about the Transforming Aged Care report

Within the report, the RMIT-Cisco research team lay out the benefits of technology applied in aged care, recommending action on four preliminary fronts:

  • Respect through the power of connection — Advances in technologies, such as machine learning interfaces, Wi-fi/ 5G and IoT (internet of things) should be better leveraged to revolutionise connection — between older Australians and their community, carers and aged care users, aged care spaces and those who rely on them. 
  • Digital first — Technology and digitisation offerings, such as automation of manual tasks, meeting of mandated quality standards and high-quality telehealth that can simultaneously serve care-based outcomes and organisational efficiency should be prioritised in the next phase of system reform. 
  • Secure and sophisticated digital infrastructure — While connection is key to respect, security and stability builds the trust needed in the system. Smart sensors connected devices and the entire internet of things should combine seamlessly to create ‘articulate spaces’, but with robust security and privacy features. Surveillance systems that track people anonymously can balance safety and privacy. 
  • New models and spaces for experimentation — Technology-rich experimentation spaces can catalyse next-level partnered prototyping, trialling, and exploration; where technologists or designers can partner with a community of researchers and industry professionals, or where in-situ simulations can inspire real-time ideation and inter-connected product development. New models and spaces for experimentation can be a game-changer.  
The Health Transformation Lab is trialling robotic dogs to aid in delivery tasks within aged care homes.

The partnership between Cisco and RMIT will continue to evolve as the University joins the National Industry Innovation Network (NIIN).

This Cisco-led industry and university alliance is aimed at driving the combined attention of the country’s best minds, technologists, industry capabilities and academic resources to solve pressing industry and social challenges through the technology-enabled innovation. 

The NIIN is co-funded through Cisco’s Country Digital Acceleration (CDA) program, a $61 million investment to accelerate Australia’s digital capabilities in industries of national significance. 

The RMIT & Cisco Health Transformation Lab was established in 2018 to encourage innovation within the health sector.

The Lab works closely with industry partners, health services and government to identify challenges and respond with a combination of new thinking and digital technologies.

The Lab includes demonstration spaces for partners to showcase new technologies and is hosted on campus at RMIT.

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  1. Reading the first paragraph I was excited to think that 21st technologies would better connect the multiple government and private agencies operating within the so-called Aged Care ‘system’. While the use of digital technologies might usefully connect aged care residents etc, what about using it to better connect all these agencies; even in something as simple as enabling the efficient sharing of data e.g. between Centrelink and My Aged Care and care providers. Perhaps then someone caring for a dementia patient in the home will not have to wade through so much red tape to access the ‘system’. As a carer myself, dealing with red tape and the bureaucrats doubles the stress of caring for my Loved One. Get the ‘back room’ right to save our time and emotional energy for actually caring for the aged and disabled.

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