Filling in the gaps - How ELDAC's Home Care App for care workers can help
A guest blog by Dr Amanda Adams, Post-Doctoral Research Associate, ELDAC
Soon more than 20 per cent of the Australian population will be 65 years or older, resulting in an increased demand for aged care services and a greater need to support and grow the aged care workforce to keep up with demand. Currently, more than 75 per cent of staff providing direct care  to older Australians are care workers who are working within or across both residential and community care.
Care workers spend a large amount of their time directly interacting with their clients or residents, providing much of the required personal care including toileting, showering, dressing, cleaning, and helping with meals . While care workers have a particular scope of activities, given their relationships and time spent with clients, they are often the first to notice difficulties and barriers confronting older people and their families, particularly as the older person comes to the end of their life. Identifying an older person’s changing needs is key to improving both access and levels of care and support required from care providers regardless of where ‘home’ is located.
Only around 30 per cent of care workers have received formal palliative care education . The difference in care settings, how care workers practice, and the level of access to palliative care information can differ between residential and home care settings. Care workers in all settings come from many different backgrounds and have different life experiences. However, care workers providing care in the home tend to work alone and be mobile, delivering services to many different people in the community. Digital innovations can offer solutions to help care workers to be aware of end of life needs, to offer suggestions about practical skills that could support the older person and their family, and to assist in conversations about ageing, dying, and grieving.
Mobile apps as a potential technological solution for care workers
Mobile apps and associated technologies can offer a means to increase access and use of information by care workers. Apps can help overcome barriers associated with limited funding, working shifts and a transient or isolated workforce . Home care providers have also recognised the advantages of mobile phone use by care workers when working in the community. Mobile phones can lessen workloads, increase reporting, and improve quality of healthcare services  whilst providing information ‘as needed on the road’ . Mobile apps are ideally placed to be adopted by care workers given that 82 – 84 per cent of the home care workforce is aged under 60 . This group are more likely to be early adopters of, and comfortable with, digital technology. However, there are still challenges including intermittent or lack of quality Internet coverage especially in regional, rural, and remote communities; an individual’s technical abilities; and lack of affordability, especially if workers are required to bring their own device or use their own data.
What is currently available for care workers?
A recent scoping review  identified eleven mobile apps developed for care workers to support provision and planning of palliative care within the aged care setting. It was unclear from the literature if the information contained within the apps was based on evidence or frameworks, and if care workers as representatives of the end user group were involved in the development or evaluation process. Apps also had limited scope to support care workers in their palliative and end of life care.
The ELDAC Home Care App
Given the gaps in knowledge and the possibility of digital innovations to support care workers’ needs, the Technology and Innovations team of the ELDAC project has been developing a Home Care App for care workers. In planning and developing the app, the team (based at Flinders University) wanted to offer care workers an innovative way to access palliative care information when and where it is needed. As part of a co-design process, home care workers, care worker managers, academics and representatives from home care organisations participated in interviews to identify how the app could meet the needs and requirements of care workers. Applying this co-design approach to development has ensured the app’s palliative and end of life care information was relevant and useful to care workers and appropriate for their scope of practice.
ELDAC’s Home Care App is currently in development and will be available for download from the Apple App store and Google Play in November this year. You can find out more information about the app by visiting the Home Care App Project page on the ELDAC website. On this page, you can also leave your e-mail address so you can be notified when the app is available or register your interest to be involved in evaluating the app after it is released.
Our second blog will explain how we involved care workers in the evaluation process to produce a meaningful and easy to use resource for home care workers providing quality palliative and end of life care. Sign up to the ELDAC newsletter to keep in touch with ELDAC, and you’ll be sent a link to this blog when it is published.
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Dr Amanda Adams
Post-Doctoral Research Associate, ELDAC