Aged care comes of age in 21st century



The population of Australia is aging, arising from combined impact of the ‘baby boomers’ getting older and improved health care enabling us all to live longer. This demographic drift throws up the dual challenges of providing quality aged care to historically high numbers of people and doing so in a financially viable manner.

These challenges were the focus of a discussion I recently had with Duncan Inkster, national marketing and sales manager, and Simon Penrose, sales manager of Queensland information technology and communciations company, Surecom. Surecom has partnered with its client PresCare, to develop a means of monitoring aged care residents 24/7, while allowing them to keep their independent freedom to move about and undertake normal activities within the facility.

The solution has seen the deployment of Wi-Fi (wireless computer networking technology) based RFID (radio frequency identification) tags along with enterprise location tracking software from US industry leader AeroScout. Each resident’s tag, worn as wrist band or on a lanyard, communicates with Wi-Fi infrastructure at the facility and the system links with each staff member’s mobile handheld device and number of flat screen monitors through out the complex. The solution is based upon a set of configurable location based rules. Rules can include an at-risk resident moving into a dangerous area, lack of movement for a definable amount of time, or activation of the self alerting buttons on the water resistant tags – all of which can initiate an alert, notifying a duty nurse of a situation requiring immediate attention.

The opportunities for improved service for aged care facility residents created by this system are manifest. Reducing the monitoring load on nursing staff allows them to focus on resident care tasks. The immediacy of alerts means that nursing interventions can be more timely and effective. A wandering dementia patient, for example, can be identified and directed to safety, minimising the risk of harm. The system brings peace of mind to staff, residents and relatives alike. And from the point of view of facility proprietors it makes the difficult task of fulfilling their duty of care for their residents that much easier.

The Surecom team highlight that along with the improvement in resident care the system also offers the opportunity to improve workflows and gain operating efficiencies through better staff utilisation. Mr Inkster explained that margins in the aged care industry are relatively low. Organisations that invest in these newly designed and purposely built facilities can track residents with less staffing than was previously required. These technologies can significantly reduce the cost base of aged care operations while enhancing the quality of resident care.

“When you consider that over the next two years around 300 new aged care facilities will be built around Australia totalling more than 20,000 resident beds, the potential savings to the industry of our technology are enormous,” he said. Surecom’s vision for aged care facility management does not stop with the resident tracking system. Asset tracking using similar technology allows quick access to equipment required and reduces equipment loss. When you consider the mobile and distributed nature of the equipment used in aged care, the impact of this technology can be significant. Surecom has built a reputation for customer focus and innovative technology solutions in the network and telephony industry. Their team sees that the integration of the tracking system with the implementation of technologies such as VoIP (voice over computer networks), on hook telephone paging, webcams and networked communication systems, will allow aged care facilities to improve the quality of life of their residents. Improved communication both within the facilities and with loved ones on line in remote locations will improve the care experience while also facilitating improved cost tracking and billing.

So, 21st century information technology certainly offers innovative solutions to the 21st century challenges of the aged care industry and Queensland’s own Surecom is leading the charge.

by Michael Moloney

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