Leveraging Data and Communication Technology To Improve Infection Control In Aged Care Facilities

4 years ago
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Living in 21st Century Australia means living with two universal realities. The first, is that data informs almost every step of our life, and the second, is that modern communication technology means we are constantly connected to one another. Misgivings about the role that technology plays in our lives should not obscure its utility, especially when it comes to making everyday workplace environments safer and more efficient.

COVID-19 has forced the age services sector to reimagine infection control in facilities, and the sector needs to harness data and communication technology to make infection control more efficient and cost-effective.

Building Asset Profiles

Bluetooth Beacons and IoT sensors can track movement throughout facilities. The data gathered can then be used to create heatmaps, and show when specific areas and assets are used most. This information is crucial in creating cleaning routines and hygiene protocols that ensure high-touch points and high-use areas promptly disinfected.

Data sets mean hygiene protocols can be based on how residents and staff actually interact with the facility, rather than basing protocols on perceptions of how residents and staff interact with the facility.

Crucially, these data sets mean aged care facilities can create targeted hygiene protocols that eliminate infectious agents at the source, and control infection spread. This is a far more effective approach than merely increasing the frequency of hygiene protocols, which will add to cost without necessarily reducing the risk of infection spread.

Breaking Down the Barriers Between Care and Cleaning Staff

Investing in communication technology allows for further integration of care and cleaning service teams. Care staff and facility residents need to have direct lines of communication with cleaning teams so they can raise service issues. This is especially important in preventing infection spread, as facility staff can raise an immediate service request instead of having to wait for the next round of cleaning.

If a resident tests positive for COVID-19 or another infectious illness, staff can immediately notify cleaning teams who can cordon-off the area, and perform a pandemic clean to stop the infection spread at the source.

Smart wearables mean cleaners and staff can be in constant communication without having to carry around bulky communication equipment. Tablets can also be placed around the facility to add another layer of communication.

Investing in the right communication technology is essential. It has to be user-friendly, it has to be suited to the environment, and it has to be customisable and scalable. Features to look for include:

  • Voice-Enabled: Hands-free activation is essential in preventing infection-spread, it also makes it easier for cleaners and care staff to send and respond to requests when their hands are full.
  • Customisable Software: Good communication should be able to change and grow according to needs.
  • Simple Design: Good technology is easy to use and implement, simplicity will lead to greater and more effective uptake.

Protecting Resident Privacy and Ensuring Quality of Life

Using data collection and communication technology in aged-care facilities cannot come at the expense of resident privacy. Accordingly, collection needs to be limited to anonymous forms of data, such as foot traffic.

Data and communication can improve resident privacy and quality of life outcomes in aged-care facilities. Heatmapping shows when residents are most likely to be using specific areas, so cleaning and other tasks can be done either side of these times and residents can enjoy these areas without interruption.

Discrete forms of communication technology, such as tablets and wearables, mean issues can be raised and dealt with quickly and privately.

Why Investment In Technology Helps To Cut Costs

Many aged care facilities grapple with the need to increase staff numbers and services with the need to be commercially sustainable. Investment in technology helps to create efficiencies in workflows, which opens up the capacity to increase service delivery without increasing service costs.

Data collection and heatmapping mean service routes are planned and targeted. This reduces inefficiencies by ensuring that assets within the facility aren’t over or under-serviced. For example, a rarely used room may be getting cleaned and disinfected three times a day, while a high-touch point is only disinfected during the nightly cleaning route.

Under-servicing increases the chance of infection spread, while over-servicing means resources are wasted. With heatmapping and tracking technology, resources can be appropriately allocated, and hygiene protocols can be increased without adding to overall service costs.

Investing in communication technology will also create efficiencies in workflow. Connecting cleaning teams to care staff and residents means aged-care facilities will benefit from ‘proactive’ and ‘real-time’ cleaning instead of reactive cleaning.

Reactive cleaning is built around repetitive planned schedules. Proactive and real-time cleaning is dynamic and capable of responding to changing needs.

Simple and effective communication technology, coupled with data-driven technology is the only way to achieve this type of cleaning and optimise infection control procedures.

Jim Bottomley is the General Manager – Precincts and Health Division at BIC Services.