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Six Reasons Residential Aged Care Homes Should Invest in Data Management

14/06/22
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The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) regularly publishes statistical information about data breaches. According to the OAIC’s most recent report, health service providers are particularly vulnerable to data breaches. In the period July to December 2021, health service providers reported 83 data breaches. Of these, 39 were malicious or criminal attacks, 39 were human error and five were system faults.

Last year ACE published an article setting out five reasons why residential aged care providers should invest in data management. Today we update that article with a sixth reason, which we’ve placed at the top of the list:

  1. You are at risk of data breaches that could have a serious impact on your organisation
  2. Compliance is too complicated to handle ad hoc
  3. You will be assessed on your data management system
  4. Inconsistencies can lead to findings of “not met”
  5. Data helps you plan and improve
  6. It’s cheaper and easier in the long run.

We address each of these points in detail below. But first:

 

What is a Data Management System?

By “data management system” we mean the policies, procedures and mechanisms that you use to collect, store, secure and use data. A good data management system will include training for staff, privacy protections, and mechanisms for consolidating data, avoiding inconsistencies and generating useful reports. A data management system is often part of the organisation’s enterprise risk management system.

Now, why should you invest in a data management system?

 

1. You Are at Risk of Data Breaches

As the OAIC’s report reveals, health service providers are particularly vulnerable to data breaches. These breaches can be caused by malicious or criminal attacks, human error or, in much rarer cases, system faults. Data breaches can cause psychological, financial and other harm to the person whose privacy has been compromised. Breaches can also harm an organisation, damaging their reputation and prompting legal and regulatory penalties.

 

2. Compliance is Too Complicated to Handle Ad Hoc

Residential aged care is already one of the most highly-regulated industries in Australia, and it’s not getting any simpler. On top of the hundred-plus requirements in the Aged Care Quality Standards, providers must keep up with ever-changing COVID-19 regulations, Mandatory Quality Indicators and the Serious Incident Response Scheme (SIRS). Promises from the recently elected Federal Government suggest that in the next few years aged care providers will also be seeing minimum staff time requirements and additional reporting requirements.

There is too much to keep track of ad hoc. You cannot stay up to date and demonstrate compliance with mere paper records, excel spreadsheets, emails and staff meetings.

 

3. You Will be Assessed on your Data Management System


Assessments by the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission (ACQSC) are only increasing. The assessors will come knocking on your door and they will want to see evidence of systems and processes for collecting and managing data. This will include accurate, up-to-date reports that match the existing data in their own systems. Which leads to the next point:

 

4. Inconsistencies Can Lead to Findings of ‘Not Met’

What happens if a SIRS incident also falls within one of the Mandatory Quality Indicators (QIs)? Can you easily transfer the data from one place to the other or do you have to record it all twice? And is the data consistent?

The ACQSC will cross-reference different sources of data that it gets from you. Are there some incidents that you reported in your clinical management system (or the consumer’s progress notes), under the QIs but not under the SIRS? The ACQSC will want to know why – and may give you a finding of not-met based on the inconsistency. Without a decent data management system, inconsistency is a risk.

 

5. Data Helps You Plan and Improve

Your board/governing body has a responsibility to proactively plan for continuous improvement in your facility. They need to know about the ongoing problems, the gaps in skills and staffing, the available resources and the pressure points that assessors are likely to press. None of that is possible without accurate, up-to-date data that has been translated into easy-to-read reports by a good data management system.

 

6. It’s Cheaper and Easier in the Long Run

In all industries time is money. In residential aged care, administration time is a lot of money. And stress. Precious resources spent chasing, interpreting and consolidating poorly-managed data could be much better spent caring for residents.

 

Tips on Improving Your Data Management System

Audit for Consistency

Are there some incidents that you reported in your clinical management system (or the consumer’s progress notes), under the QIs but not under the SIRS? The ACQSC will cross-reference different sources of data that you report and, where inconsistencies occur, will identify the need for further investigation and may request further information or take other action. To mitigate this risk, consider taking a proactive approach by doing your own audit across your different reporting areas and ensure consistency of reported data as well as operational systems.

 

Beware of Casual, Imprecise Language

Auditing for consistency means not only checking for consistent numbers but also consistent language. The SIRS and QIs use precise definitions that sometimes do not match the way we speak in casual conversation or interpret terminology within the organisation. For instance, one of your consumers may have a minor stumble that causes no harm, so staff take no further action except to note in a record that the consumer had a “fall”. If an ACQSC assessor sees the word “fall” they won’t know necessarily interpret it the way you intended and may conclude that this was a more serious matter that you should have reported under the SIRS or QIs. This could lead to a request for more information or an assumption of inadequate data management systems.

The key to avoiding this kind of situation is to ensure that your staff understand key terms and make their reports in precise, consistent language and using the ‘correct’ terminology. This may involve some additional staff training in this area.

 

Collect Your Data Regularly and Continuously

Data goes out of date quickly. The ACQSC will want to know not only what you’ve collected but when you collected it, how you acted on it and what systems you have in place to collect it again, and again in the future. Remember to note down the date/time that you collect data and, when it comes time to report, ask yourself: is this data current enough to use or should I collect it again? Also, ensure that you have a statement, in writing, that tells the ACQSC what data you collect, how you collect it, how often you collect it and who is responsible.

 

Use Data for Your Own Purposes

Why are you collecting and reporting on data? If your only answer is “because the regulator says we have to” then you’re making life harder for yourself. What is the alternative? Collect and use your data to achieve what you need to improve the care and services that you provide to consumers, as well as your operational processes. This involves, first and foremost, clearly articulating what it is that you want to achieve and the outcome that you expect. Be specific. Broad goals, such as “to improve quality of care” are of limited help in this context (of course you want to improve quality of care). Better goals are more targeted, specific things such as:

  • Find out when, where and why falls are most likely to happen in the facility.
  • Find out how much time staff spend on administration processes each day.
  • Find out if the board/governing body actually reads the reports and/or attachments that they receive.
  • Give the board accurate data showing needs of consumers within the home to allow for effective governance and decision-making.

 

The bottom line is that regulation and assessment are becoming more and more focused on data. You are going to have to collect and use data anyway. Why not use it to improve the way that you work and the care and services that you provide for consumers?

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About the Author

Mark Bryan

Mark is a Legal Content Consultant at CompliSpace and the editor for Aged Care Essentials (ACE). Mark has worked as a Legal Policy Officer for the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department and the NSW Department of Justice. He also spent three years as lead editor for the private sessions narratives team at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Mark holds a bachelor’s degree in Arts/Law from the Australian National University with First Class Honours in Law, a Graduate Diploma in Writing from UTS and a Graduate Certificate in Film Directing from the Australian Film Television and Radio School.

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