On Wednesday, 18 April 2018, the Commonwealth Minister for Aged Care, Ken Wyatt, announced that the government will move ahead with introducing recommendations from the Carnell-Paterson Review into aged care quality regulatory processes.

More specifically, it will move forward with a new Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission, a Serious Incident Response Scheme, and publicly available provider ratings with a provider comparison tool.

In this article we explore what shape ratings may take, the impact they can have and how providers should start preparing for their launch.

What you need to know

  • From January 1 2019, aged care regulation, compliance and complaints handling will be brought together in a new and independent Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission.
  • Publicly available ratings against quality standards and a user-friendly provider comparison tool on the My Aged Care website.
  • The enactment of a Serious Incident Response Scheme (SIRS) for aged care.

Ratings have been discussed since work began on the aged care gateway and My Aged Care platform. So, this announcement comes as no surprise, but how prepared are providers?

Predisposed to be negative.

Recent research conducted by our agency indicates that 41% of Australians have a negative view of aged care. That view is informed predominantly by the media and bad publicity. As the saying goes, perception is reality. People who are only just experiencing aged care, often arrive with negative perceptions and usually at a point of personal crisis.

With increasing media and advocate scrutiny, followed by reporting of some distressing provider failures, pressure was on the government to respond. That scrutiny and resultant reporting is unlikely to disappear, particularly as assessment becomes more public.

Ratings and reviews: a contemporary convention

Airbnb, Uber, Google business: we are constantly asked to rate a person or a company online. And, if we are ending a call with Telstra or Optus, we invariably get a ‘are you satisfied with my assistance today’ question, the answer to which immediately accrues to a net promoter score (and an executive performance bonus).

Whitecoat.com is on its way to becoming a common destination for health consumers to find health professionals, pay for services and read or leave reviews. Backed by Australia’s major insurers, it is serving the dual purpose of informing patients while also increasing scrutiny on doctors, with the stated goal of driving customer service.

Aged care has its share of independent ratings and review sites vying for dominance, some feature customer reviews as well as ratings.

In summary, ratings and user reviews are common and increasing in prevalence. But do we trust review sites?

How much do reviews matter to consumers?

In short – a lot. Research conducted by Bright Local found that in 2017 97 per cent of consumers read an online review before making a buying decision, and 85 per cent of them trust it as much as a recommendation made by a friend or family.  

This behaviour translates across industries, particularly in aged care when quality is front and centre of the decision making process. A study from Care Page actually found that most residents and loved ones were happy with their aged care facility. This should be a welcome insight for aged care providers who are more hesitant to opening themselves up to public reviews.

What shape will government ratings and comparisons take? The UK exemplar.

While few details have been given of how the new rating and comparison tools will work, the Carnell Paterson Review referenced the UK Care Quality Commission’s approach. From the report:

“We envisage the publication of clear, readily intelligible information that includes some form of star rating against core standards.”

“The simple and readily understandable rating information published by England’s care regulator provided a useful star rating example.”  Carnell & Patterson, Review of National Aged Care Regulatory Processes.

The UK’s Care Quality Commission (CQC) publish all provider quality ratings on its website. Aged care providers must also display their rating in each and every premises where a regulated activity is being delivered, at their main place of business, and on their website(s).

As well as these physical and online displays of quality ratings, recent inspections and announcements have made national, local and industry news with headlines likebest and worst care homes revealed”.

View the CCQ website ratings chart.

What are the implications for providers?

Trust in government is at all time low. Even if governments do good work and deliver quality services, consumers conflate the executive role of government with the antics of the political class.

However, MyAgedCare is a key destination for aged care consumers. They are a trusted body, with over 60% of people calling their enquiry lines in a time of crisis when they are trying to access aged care. Not only must they pass through the aged care gateway to be assessed and funded, they are provided with referrals to providers.

Government ratings will certainly play a role on many consumers’ decision-making journeys.

The importance of customer insights

The need for in-depth customer insights is especially relevant when it comes to quality. As we stated in our recent article, Quality: In the beholder’s eye, perceptions of quality are variable and subjective, and are informed by a range of experiences and data points beyond, for example, clinical indicators. Providers need to understand and address the range of information and data points.

As Sean Rooney, CEO, LASA has said, “As for a rating system for providers of age services, LASA believes more work needs to be done to understand what consumers value.”

Applying research and co-design methodologies to deliver sustainable differentiation.

There are a number of research methodologies providers can use to gain deeper insights into their customers’ perceptions and experiences, including quantitative surveys, trend analysis and focus testing. And through the application of co-design methodologies providers can go one step further to meet expectations of quality, measure and deliver on what matters, and measure and build sustainable brand and service differentiation.

What should you do?

Considering all the above, here is a recommended path of action:

  • Start planning now for ratings to become a reality
  • Make sure the customer insights you have for your areas of operations and service types are up to date: at a minimum complete segmentation, customer journey and empathy mapping, and employee engagement research annually. The market is evolving quickly, and resident satisfaction surveys won’t cut it.
  • At all the key touchpoints for customer decision making and referrer engagement, activate your brand story, and customer experience.
  • Record the data that matters and share it: provide concrete evidence for customers and referrers.
  • Track ratings and respond.

For marketing and communications managers in aged care providers, this will often move from basic proactive marketing and reactive public relations to programmed and comprehensive communication.

Experience tells us that increasing regulation sees aged care providers spend more time and money on compliance and administration while reducing funding or ignoring the demands on other functions such as marketing and communications.

Communicators will need to be strategic and tactical in their approaches to achieving differentiation and competitive advantage in an increasingly informed market demanding transparency. Any efficient, effective and measurable approach to marketing and communications activity is built on customer insights.

Talk to Ellis Jones about meeting customer expectations of quality through customer research and co-design.

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