With all the talk about the need for transparency in the aged care industry, the news of the new open disclosure framework for aged care operators is already being seen as a step in the right direction by the countless families who have loved ones living in aged care facilities around the country. 

The new guidelines are now a specific requirement under the new Aged Care Quality Standards that came into effect on 1 July and require aged care providers to engage in clear and honest discussions with their consumers in the event of something going wrong.

This discussion must include addressing all of a consumer’s needs and concerns, explaining steps that have been put in place to prevent further incidents, and also apologising for any wrongdoing. 

But is that enough?

Should information regarding serious incidents in aged care facilities be exclusive to the unfortunate consumers who have had to experience them? Or do the people who are in the process of choosing an aged care provider for their loved-one deserve to be able to access information on serious incidents as a means to make an informed decision?

In a recent interview with HelloCare regarding the open disclosure framework, Dr. Sarah Russell expressed her thoughts on the current level of transparency in the aged care sector and the possibility of aged care providers being made to publish incidents on their websites.

“In the interests of transparency, all aged care homes and home care providers should be required to report adverse incidents not only to the older person and their family but also on their websites,” she said. 

“This will enable older people and their families to make informed decisions when choosing an aged care home or home care provider.”

Dr. Russell also said she would also like to see open disclosure legislated, as it is in all public health services in Australia.

In order for a person to make an informed decision about anything, they need to be able to access as much information as possible, but unfortunately for those looking for insight on prospective residential aged care options, a large amount of information regarding government sanctions, incidents, and shortcomings, are either not reported publicly or extremely well hidden.

Chief Executive of COTA, Ian Yates AM, weighed in on the issue of transparency within aged care, and while he did not feel that providers should be made to list incidents on their website, he did suggest an alternative that would provide Australians with much more insight than is currently available.

“COTA has argued to providers for a long time that they need to develop much greater transparency about quality issues, complaints, etc. We also support the Open Disclosure Framework on which the Quality & Safety Commission has consulted with stakeholders,” he said.

“We do not think that providers should have to list on their website every matter that is subject to Open Disclosure, which would raise privacy and other issues, but providers should be required to report in a summary form on numbers and types of issues and their outcomes against a standard format with standard common terminology,” said Ian.

Acting CEO of ACSA, Darren Mathewson, echoed the thoughts of Ian Yates in a recent statement given to HelloCare, supporting the idea of a publishable quality indicators which would ultimately serve as a benchmarking tool for perspective aged care consumers.

“Simply lodging reports on the provider’s website will not improve resident safety. To improve care outcomes, we must have an organisational approach that embraces acknowledgment of past errors to those affected, recognises problems and works to improve systems.

“ACSA is supportive of the introduction of publishable Quality Indicators, but it must be incorporated within a more comprehensive suite of indicators that accurately capture both Quality of Life and Quality of Care outcomes. These Quality Indicators should be consistent between providers and should be developed between government and sector consumer and provider peak bodies.

While aged care providers are not overly forthcoming with information regarding the standard of care within their facilities, the requirements of the new aged care standards have resulted in an internal scramble for information by aged care providers, in an effort to drive improvement.

Earlier this year, Aged Care Guild, CEO, Matthew Richter, addressed a Royal Commission hearing, flagging concerns about the lack of transparency and available information being provided to consumers within aged care and highlighting the lengths that some of their providers are willing to go in order to understand how to improve.

“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.

The Aged Care Guild is currently in the process of implementing the data-collection and benchmarking software CarePage in some of their member’s facilities, with the intention of using this tool as a means to improve transparency through information gathering and better-informing consumers.

CarePage is a combination of the latest surveying and analytic technologies and is complemented by a data analysis team. Facility 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 accessible by providers in real-time, letting them understand exactly what is working well in their facility, and what is in need of improvement.

“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,” said Mr. Richter.

“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,” said Mr. Richter.

While having providers publishing incidents does not seem like an outcome that we can expect to see anytime soon, the fact that there are some providers in the industry that are willing to invest in understanding how well their facilities are being run, is a great indicator that the winds of change are slowly beginning to sweep through the halls of aged care in Australia.

And quality indicators that allow everyday Australians to understand what staff and residents think of their own homes – just might be the type of real insight that will allow them to make informed decisions.

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