The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety has published a report that identifies the need for telehealth appointments and emergency telehealth care to become a standard practice option for all residential aged care facilities and independently-living older adults (RCACQS 2, 2020). The Special Report into Aged Care and COVID-19 was published on 30 September 2020 and sought to identify immediate areas of action following the Royal Commission (RCACQS 2, 2020).
According to the Royal Commission, from 1 November 2021 approved providers that deliver residential or personal care must have the necessary equipment to support telehealth services. Additionally, staff must be clinically and culturally able to support the implementation and use of telehealth services (RCACQS 2, 2020).
What is a telehealth appointment?
A telehealth appointment is a medical or health-related appointment conducted via technological solutions (Watkins, 2020). This could be a phone call, a 1-on-1 video call or a video conference call with a doctor, a support worker or friends and family.
These appointments are particularly helpful regarding the specialist needs of older adults who live within the aged care system, and are situated far from their chosen medical specialist.
How will telehealth influence the future of residential aged care facilities and older adults living independently?
Older adults are often most vulnerable to external environmental changes. COVID-19 caused a mass lockdown of aged care facilities and independent older adults, essentially isolating them from society. This had adverse effects on both the physical and mental health of older adults, and increased the workload and workplace stressors placed upon aged care workers and professionals.
For older adults
Primarily, the adoption of telehealth will provide stability, reliability and access to last-minute specialist appointments without requiring older adults (who may be frail, exhausted or distressed) to relocate from their homes (RACGP, viewed 2021). Telehealth will remove the geographical barrier from older adults who want to seek timely and effective support, whether that be medical or otherwise.
For aged care workers
The adoption of telehealth will ideally reduce the workload of residential aged care staff. Friends and family will be able to meet without RACF workers facilitating it, and clinical consultations can be more regular but more private and automated (KPMG Australia, 2020). This reduced workload could result in fewer workers required on each shift and reduced in-person infrastructure required, meaning more flexibility to use government-allotted funds for professional development of staff, sector innovation and growth of aged care facilities.
What are the challenges that could stop telehealth from being adopted by the Australian aged care industry?
May be hesitant to adopt the use of technology for something as personal and sensitive as clinical appointments and care.
May doubt the effectiveness of a telehealth appointment when diagnosis is required.
May assume that the use of screens and video-calls makes the meeting impersonal.
(KPMG Australia, 2020; RACGP, viewed 2021)
How is telehealth implemented?
Telehealth is a sophisticated solution to many problems faced by the aged care industry. Yet implementing telehealth solutions is surprisingly simple.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ausmed has been researching and publishing learning resources that explain the requirements and techniques to set up telehealth in specialist and general practices, RACFs and aged care consumers' homes. There are numerous platforms that are created specifically for facilitating telehealth, meaning the software is simple, reliable and reputable. There are also various communication and telehealth-specific techniques required to sustain effective use of a telehealth program (Ausmed, 2020).
We advise all RACFs and independent aged care agencies to review the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety’s Special Report into Aged Care and COVID-19. Critically assess your own organisation and work, and identify opportunities to use telehealth in both a prospective and permanent way.
Additionally, regularly check on the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety’s News and Media page for updates via newsletter and media releases.