Bringing the voice of the age services consumer to the boardroom table

A board that listens and acts will help secure a better ageing future

Picture yourself in bed, incapacitated and unable to communicate. Your greatest pleasure is a hot cup of coffee, but every day your coffee grows cold while you await the arrival of your carer. A board that hears the voice of the consumer can prevent this from happening.

Identifying the problem

Governance Evaluator’s 2018 Governance Capability Benchmark Report assessed governance capabilities across over 70 boards in the aged care, health, community and government sectors, with the Governance of Clinical Care module evaluating boards in relation to the new Aged Care Quality Standards.

It is no surprise that genuinely partnering with consumers, in particular hearing the voice of the consumer at the boardroom table, emerged as the key governance issue among aged care and health boards. The results show that only 39 per cent of aged care boards understand how to successfully hear the voice of the consumer at the boardroom table.

Working towards the solution: today

Aged care boards have a crucial role in achieving a person-centred aged care industry, for it is at board level that the consumer becomes genuinely embedded within the care framework.

In order to understand what dignity and choice really means to their consumers, boards must take steps to identify who their consumer is, what they want, and what obstacles they need to overcome to get what they want.

Leading aged care organisations are currently implementing solutions at board level that enable the consumer experience to be respected and reflected in service delivery, for example:

  • Boards are ‘getting up and going out’; conducting ‘walkarounds’ of their facilities to get a better understanding of the issues.
  • Boards are immersing themselves in the communities they serve, and are embracing the diversity within.
  • Boards are extending methodologies for collecting consumer feedback to a series of larger focus groups consisting of people with ‘lived experience’, being consumers, their children, families and carers for a deeper understanding of their issues. They are also using their definitions of choice, vulnerability, respect, dignity, happiness and dignified dying to inform their policies procedures and behaviours.

An important component of this is gaining an understanding of the way their consumers lived and the things they loved before they entered their aged care service, and working to respect their individuality in care planning. This is how the board can be assured that the organisation understands the importance of a simple hot cup of coffee.

Working towards the solution: tomorrow

The capacity of behavioural data and artificial intelligence in providing a voice for the age services consumer is expanding at an astounding rate in Australia and internationally.

No longer the stuff of science fiction novels, artificial intelligence applications collect data to model predictable behaviours in an individual consumer as well as larger populations so that deviations from an expected behaviour can trigger appropriate responses.

Examples of these include devices that check inconsistencies in biometric data and smart sensors that detect and report on falls, through to human pose detection applications and companion robots that identify and keep track of important objects around the residence and help the consumer remember important tasks and events.

For an aged care service board, the collection and utilisation of this type of data, which can speak on behalf of the consumer if the consumer is unable to speak for themselves, provides assurance that their organisation is providing safe and quality care as well as providing true choice and dignity to the consumer.  This information can also be used to assure boards that their consumer needs are being heard and attended to in a proactive caring way.

Next steps are for boards to develop more sophisticated skills around data analysis and how it can support their important oversight roles for consumers’ choices being respected, services having a culture of safety and quality, and their aged care businesses prospering.

Originally published in LASA Fusion Magazine Spring 2019.