How digitally mature is Australian aged care today?

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A new survey report has gauged the digital maturity of the aged and community care sector in Australia, establishing its benchmark for further improvement to cater to evolving regulatory demands.

The Aged Care Industry Information Technology Council (ACIIT), which carried out the national project with the Australian Digital Health Agency, defined digital maturity as the “organisation’s ability to adapt so that it can function effectively in an increasingly digital environment.”

FINDINGS

More than 165 organisations in the aged and community care sector participated in ACIIT’s survey. They represented over 56,000 residential sites, making up almost a tenth of the sector. 

They were made to score their digital maturity across seven domains, along with their respective sub-domains, on a 0-6 Likert scale. Adopted from various digital maturity frameworks, these domains include IT Capability; People, Skills, and Behaviours; Governance and Strategy; Interoperability; Data Analytics; Cybersecurity; and Resident/Client-centred Care. Based on the findings, the sector scored an average digital maturity of 58.4 out of 109. 

By location, metropolitan-based providers were said to have a “robust embrace” of digital technologies while their rural counterparts were making “significant strides” in their digital journey. Large providers with over 100 sites were “active” participants in their digital transformation; non-residential providers were found enhancing their digital maturity; while remote providers have attained a “moderate level” of digital maturity though they were “committed” to advancing digitally. 

An analysis of the findings also revealed some strengths and weaknesses in the sector’s digital capabilities.

Respondents seemed to have a “high level” of confidence in their cybersecurity. Their uptake of free Wi-Fi, videoconferencing, and broadcast messaging was relatively high as well and their business continuity processes were largely established. 

In terms of weaknesses, there seemed to be a lack of innovation, including the use of robotics, AI, digital apps, and remote monitoring devices. Respondents admitted being ill-equipped to provide residents and their representatives with access to digital records. The findings also showed that “data is more likely to be used on a prescriptive basis to optimise operations and outcomes on the basis of collected data, rather than in real-time or in a predictive capacity.”

Despite their confidence in their cybersecurity, there were concerns about the security of residents data, which was said to be “mediocre.” About a quarter of the organisations polled also were unaware of whether their cybersecurity is insured.   

THE LARGER CONTEXT

Meanwhile, ACIITC noted improvements in responses from the sector three years after their initial digital maturity survey in 2020. There was a reported increase in the use of phishing protection software; more staff having access to records; stronger use of technology solutions for communications (such as videoconferencing and mobile devices), and greater ownership of technology. 

The association attributed these enhancements to the impact of the global pandemic and the growing cybersecurity threats and incidences, alongside a stricter technology compliance regime.

At least 68 out of 109 recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety in 2021 highlighted the need for the sector’s digital transformation. It pointed out how the sector was “deeply analogue” and “well behind” other sectors in the use of technology. The federal government then set aside around $200 million to deliver on the commission’s recommendations, upgrading the ICT systems in aged care.

Additionally, the latest ACIIT report noted that most organisations surveyed have “generally not attained functional external interoperability, nor use effective data analysis or have resident involvement or access in digital solutions.” There was also lower digital maturity in clinical support than in resident care and administrative activities. This affirms a recent finding by the Aged Care Technology Consortium, which previously noted the lack of critical digital systems within aged care based on their sector-wide survey. 

Alongside conducting the survey, ACIIT also developed two digital maturity improvement toolkits, one for its survey respondents and an upcoming second which will be made available across the sector. The toolkits will help address operational and compliance requirements, set long-term strategic goals, and provide a roadmap for digital maturity.

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