Australia’s ‘AgeTech’ sector is set for a boom in the wake of the final report of the aged care royal commission (ACRC), whose findings include a recommendation that the government invest 1.8 per cent of its aged-care spending into a new innovation fund to support AgeTech research.
The 148 recommendations in the newly-released final report – which said years of budget cuts had created an “unacceptable” and “deeply concerning” standard of aged care in Australia – include a host of technology-related measures, such as the mandated adoption of digital care management systems, electronic medication management systems, and greater adoption and use of the My Health Record system.
Technology usage should be considered as part of specialist aged care training courses, while aged-care facilities should implement and use videoconferencing technology to help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander residents maintain connections with communities, the report suggested.
Another recommendation proposes an “assistive technology and home modifications category” to provide technological aids that “promote a level of independence in daily living tasks and reduces risks to living safely at home”.
Such recommendations were a positive sign for Greg O’Loan, Asia Pacific regional vice president with business software provider Epicor, whose customer base includes a broad range of aged-care and healthcare bodies.
The recommendations “aim to bring a universal standard to aged care,” said O’Loan – who has watched the ACRC process closely – noting that many sector leaders were already tapping smart technology but that the ACRC would seek to raise the tide for all players.
“We must be at the head of this curve, and residential aged care facilities have some catching up to do,” he added, welcoming “that major problems and limitations with the current technology infrastructure and architecture for aged care were highlighted in the report” and encouraging the use of strict deadlines to push aged-care providers towards greater and more consistent use of digital technologies.
Further improvements could build on these changes, noted O’Loan in flagging the need for “fully working data governance and minimum data set” by July 2023 – providing industry standards for data exchange through open APIs that would ease data collection to monitor quality indicators and facilitate compliance with prudential requirements.
Funding an AgeTech renaissance
The aged-care sector’s technology requirements include both operational aids and back-end security for personal information – particularly important given that, like other parts of the healthcare system, aged-care providers have recently been in the firing line from cybercriminals.
Yet many aged-care providers have faced challenges getting staff to adopt new technology, with Feros Care CEO Jennene Buckley previously telling a Royal Commission hearing that introducing new technologies “has been a difficult process for us when it has come to motivating managers and staff to really engage with technology… [staff] don’t have a lot of other time to want to really engage with technology.”
Widespread human inertia could pose a greater role for the automation of AgeTech innovations that work behind the scenes, with longer-term structural change could be effected by the proposed creation of an Aged Care Research and Innovation Fund (ACRIF) by 1 July 2022.
The ACRIF would complement existing ARC and NHMRC funding with 1.8 per cent of total aged-care expenditure to be allocated to aged care innovation, workforce research and technology research.
With more than $18b spent on aged care in 2017-18 alone, that level would provide around $324m for innovation funding.
ACRIF members would be appointed based on their research records, helping them facilitate relationships with research bodies, academics, community organisations, industry, government and the international community to help translate research into better aged-care practices.
That research-driven focus would be a shot in the arm for technology providers, who are floating in an increasingly significant AgeTech ecosystem that some observers have predicted will double in size in coming years to be worth some $2.6 trillion ($US2t).
Because older citizens are naturally covered by many existing services, cordoning off their interests into a separate market segment has been what one VC called “the messy, murky phase of an exploding digital vertical” where venture capitalists have flocked to innovators who have been able to define and execute value propositions specific to older citizens.
Rapid AgeTech innovation over the next few years will help make people more fully informed about their health risks and make supportive technologies commonplace, one Deloitte analysis predicted in painting a picture of a future where AgeTech “provides customised digital solutions to support older people to live independently for longer”.
Industry organisations have sought to coalesce the efforts of the rapidly developing AgeTech industry, with the global Age Tech Association currently setting up chapters in areas including Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, and New Zealand.