Providing evidence and information that supports all staff to develop best-practice skills in the aged care sector has emerged as a valuable component of the palliAGED digital information resource.
In 2015, the Department of Health commissioned the CareSearch Project team at Flinders University’s Research Centre for Palliative Care, Death and Dying (RePaDD) to create living palliative care guidance for aged care – and palliAGED was the result, an information resource for the Australian aged care sector focused on palliative care evidence and practice across 38 key topics identified by the expert aged care working group.
Providing support for health and care practitioners as well as resource developers, the palliAGED website also provides trustworthy information for older Australians, their families, and friends.
Close collaboration and ongoing consultation with stakeholders are hallmarks of the CareSearch model. In 2018, responding to unmet information needs in aged care identified through these processes, Dr Katrina Erny-Albrecht from the College of Nursing and Health Sciences led the development of actionable, evidence-based resources for care workers and nurses who were new to aged care and/or palliative care. This has resulted in highly successful support for education delivery within the aged care sector.
In March 2019, palliAGED Practice Tip Sheets were introduced, a digital information resource that now covers 42 topics with parallel series reflecting care worker and nurses’ scopes of practice. To ensure the widest possible access of these palliAGED Practice Tips, both digital and printed resources were made available, and both have been enthusiastically embraced. Orders have been placed for more than 23,000 copies of the full booklets, while the website – which allows access to individual topic sheets – has attracted more than 132,000 downloads.
“It is now three years since we introduced this product, and from feedback we know that these tip sheets are being used effectively and welcomed by aged care staff,” says Dr Erny-Albrecht.
“Evidence remains the focus of what we do, but we also know that just making it available is not enough, so we keep looking at more opportunities to translate this for practice and ask questions of what is not being addressed. We are looking at the pressures placed on staffing demands and ask workers in the sector what is missing for them.”
After this initial move into aged care training and education, the palliAGED team was approached by aged care providers to develop an introductory series of learning modules in 2021 for nurses who had recently commenced work in aged care. Designed to bring staff up to speed quickly, the 10 topic modules based on the palliAGED Practice Tips for Nurses take only 12 minutes per module to complete, and so far, more than 40,000 modules have been completed. Available through the palliAGED website, surveys for quality improvement are embedded within the modules to support product refinement, and have attracted more than 12,000 responses, which reinforces Dr Erny-Albrecht’s confidence in palliAGED remaining a vital change-facilitator in the aged care sector.
Dr Erny-Albrecht says an additional bonus is that other aged care staff are also being encouraged to complete selected training modules, from cleaners to kitchen staff. “This is helping to amplify a greater understanding among all the staff of each other’s jobs, and about the needs and care of older clients,” she says. “It’s giving everyone the confidence to raise an alarm if they observe something about an aged client that may be of concern, because they are now more aware of possible care needs.”
The next step for the palliAGED team is to explore more ways for its support for teaching to be embraced by the entire aged care sector. For example, at present, 26 residential aged care organisations around the nation have installed the palliAGED modules into their own systems, which represents 3% of Australia’s aged care providers that manage 12% of the aged care beds. While this is an encouraging development, Dr Erny-Albrecht notes that these providers are more likely to be located within the nation’s most affluent postcodes.
“We are doing well with our resources reaching into all states and territories of Australia, including rural and remote areas, but we can see that while our printed resources are being used equally across all socio-economic areas, there is some evidence of a digital divide, so we have to look at how we can penetrate further into these areas,” she says.
“We are refining our data collection so that we know precisely where palliAGED needs to improve and extend our reach – and we know that our work in these areas will be effective because every project begins by speaking with stakeholders about what they think will make a difference.”