To where, aged care?

The National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission report has set off the Commentariat like fire crackers on New Year’s Eve. Beneath the bluff and bluster are some seriously challenging propositions for aged care providers.

With a forecast increase in the number of seniors in the next 20 years, a doubling of the number of aged care places is predicted (to 464,000). While demand is set to increase, so is competition among providers.Currently new beds are assigned to providers. In future it is recommended the resident/family will be given the ability to ‘go shopping’. It’s part of building more choice into the system, a trend in other advanced economies. Also proposed are changes to bed restrictions. Providers will potentially be able to take as many people as they can house.

‘Consumer-directed care’ is, without doubt, a priority for aged care providers. But flexibility in choice for consumers needs to be accompanied by flexibility in funding and a reduction, not increase, in the complexity of compliance.

The provision of culturally appropriate services is also identified as a priority. A diverse resident base means diverse care needs with escalating cost and risk, something Ellis Jones has been developing strategies to manage.

With the acknowledgement that residential aged care is sub acute, comes the recommendation that providers be able to accept accommodation bonds for high care places. This will be a relief for providers who valiantly strive to build sustainable businesses despite the insecurity of non-government funding.

The suggested establishment of ‘citizen juries’ seems to have evaded public discussion. It should raise the interest of providers as it could create a powerful local arbiter. Knowledge of aged care practice is fairly low among community members and perceptions of aged care have been unduly shaped by negative media reports. Citizen juries present significant uncontrolled risk to reputation (see definition of ‘citizen juries’ here).

So what do these recommendations mean for aged care providers?

1) Marketing and communications becomes a critical business function.
With no limit on number of beds and greater consumer expectations (the Baby Boomers are arriving), competition expands as waiting lists shrink. Providers need to adopt more sophisticated approaches to marketing – at organisational and local levels. That means strong brand differentiation (defining a distinct offer), public relations and community engagement.

2) Diversification as risk management.
With the increasing importance of sub-acute care, the flow of people to aged care after acute hospital visits will decrease. The increased focus on preventative and primary care also means that people stay at home longer. More providers will need to make the shift from low to dual or high care status, diversifying their service offering to remain sustainable.

3) Heading online.
Consolidation means there’s some hefty marketing budgets out there but sometimes the smartest marketing is localised and cost effective. People aged 55 years and older are the fastest growing group of Internet users in Australia. In Australia, 90% of them are using Google. If you haven’t already, get a serious online strategy and head online. Migrate communications to email (with staff and families), and establish a professional web presence.

Ellis Jones is a leading provider of business, marketing and communication services to the aged care sector.