If history is anything to go by, it’s safe to say that up until this point, the aged care industry has spent just as much effort shielding the public from problems, as it has attempting to fix them.
The head-in-the-sand approach to issues within the industry reached boiling point last year, prompting the announcement of Australia’s Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety in early October.
And throughout the ongoing months of Royal Commission proceedings, we have and will continue to hear stories of a system that has failed to meet the needs of a number of this country’s most elderly and vulnerable people.
While the issues that the aged care sector currently face are varied, one recurrent theme that continues to shadow the majority of problems is the breakdown in communication between providers and consumers, and the failure to hear and react appropriately to criticism.
And while many peak bodies and governing factions from within the aged care industry scramble to try and engage with their current and future consumers, one aged care peak body has committed to employing an innovative new tool to better understand the issues being faced by their consumers and employees.
The Aged Care Guild is an association of the seven largest private residential aged care providers in Australia and members of the Guild actually account for 17% of the aged care sector as a whole.
Aged Care Guild, CEO, Matthew Richter, who spoke at yesterday’s Royal Commission hearing, flagged concerns about the lack of transparency and available information being provided to consumers within aged care.
“One of the biggest things that I think is an issue in this system, is a lack of information for consumers- almost at any point, on what is a very complex and complicated journey,” said Mr. Richter.
Mr. Richter then went on to outline the creation of a prototype data and feedback collection tool that the Aged Care Guild was in the process of implementing in some of their member’s facilities.
And their intention to use this tool as a means to improve transparency and better inform consumers.
“What I would like to see is a place where you could go as a consumer and find information out about what you’re looking for.”
“Everybody’s different, and maybe you have certain preferences about how you might want to live – and you could find out more information about how different organisations and different homes run their services.”
“I would also like people to be able to find out about how those services perform. So quality indicators would be important; quality indicators that mean something to consumers as well.”
The new online data collection and surveying tool was developed by an organisation called CarePage, who is an independent outside source with expertise in collecting and interpreting consumer feedback.
And the Aged Care Guild is hoping to use this feedback to better understand the concerns of both the residents and employees of their providers, and use this knowledge to adapt and operate in a more informed way.
One of the biggest indications of the communication issues that plague the aged care sector is the unwillingness of aged care residents and staff to voice their concerns.
In fact, one out of every six people over the age of 65 who either work or live in an aged care facility is too scared to give negative feedback out of a fear of retribution.
Aged care employees fear that negative feedback regarding their employer may result in negative changes to their working rosters or a lack of career advancement opportunities.
And aged care residents fear a lack of compassion and unfavorable treatment by aged care staff.
And although this silence was born out of self-preservation and a need to avoid problems; decades worth of this mentality have resulted in a system that refuses to take accountability for any wrongdoing, because of the lack of people who were willing to officially voice their concern.
Anonymous complaints have always been an option within aged care facilities, but concerns around the security and privacy of internal complaints procedures have added to the lack of feedback.
And unfortunately, receiving this type of feedback is one of the most honest and effective ways to measure performance.
Aged Care Guild, CEO, Matthew Richter flagged the important role that complaints can play in the shaping of the aged care system, during yesterday’s Royal Commission hearing.
“I think we need to think of complaints as feedback as well, to act on them, and make the system better,” he said.
And while aged care employees and residents may initially be slow to talk, the implementation of CarePage technology, and the fact that it is an independent outside organisation should go a long way to dispelling fears about the security of anonymous complaints within Guild Member facilities.
The Carepage tool mentioned at the Royal Commission has already been rolled out by a number of forward-thinking operators, and is currently being utilised by hundreds of aged care facilities.
And CarePage founder, Lauren Todorovic, was no stranger to the aged care industry, before creating the cutting-edge data collection tool.
“Having worked in aged care and hospitals as a nurse, I noticed both a lack of communication and an inability to organise or utilise any data that we had. And it had consequences.”
“I distinctly remember feeling as though my thoughts and concerns were being filtered or sometimes blocked by those working above me, which I believe had an effect on the well being of those we cared for.”
“But my desire to inform those at the top of what was really happening is what helped me identify one of the biggest issues within the industry, and that’s where CarePage came from,” said Lauren.
CarePage is a combination of the latest surveying and analytic technologies, that is complemented by the expertise of Australia’s best data analysis team.
Data is collected from online surveys that are accessed by portable mobile devices, and these surveys are routinely circulated throughout aged care facilities for both residents and employers.
And unlike previous paper-based data and feedback systems, the results and analytics derived from the surveys are accessed in real-time.
For instance, you could design a series of questions based around a person’s experience while touring a facility, and these questions can be used as indicators as to how the person views that facility.
That way, if a potential aged care resident is handed a mobile survey while they tour a facility, you can get a real-time idea of how that tour is going; including what parts they liked – and what parts they didn’t like.
And when something like this is done on numerous occasions, CarePage users begin to develop an understanding of what they can improve on throughout the tour, based on the statistics that have been gathered.
“Tours are only a small aspect of CarePage capability. Imagine having real answers to all of the questions within a facility. Is the food good? Are you happy with how you are being cared for? Are the staff friendly? When you add up all the data, a clearer picture emerges of what is actually happening,” said Lauren.
“And once a clear picture has emerged and we have a greater understanding of what is actually happening, we identify areas of strength that can be harnessed for learning, and we flag trouble areas and assist clients with implementing new strategies, and monitor their effects.”
While data collection is obviously a powerful tool for aged care providers, the CarePage website is actually an online hub, containing a number of aged care related functions for the general public.
CarePage operates as a public directory for aged care services, providing ratings and reviews of many aged care facilities and services.
And CarePage also contains a portal to sister-site HelloCare, that creates daily aged care article and video content, that inform and educate a loyal readership.
“Improvement within aged care will come when people actively seek knowledge and are willing to implement change based on their findings. And we are giving providers a chance to understand themselves,” said Lauren.
“I started this journey wanting to improve the quality of aged care for elderly people, and from my experience, that is what aged care providers also want. So being properly informed means that you have already won half of the battle.”