Communications Technology in Aged Care
Communications Technology in Aged Care

By Grant Steinback - Electrical Building Services Specialist.

When undertaking an aged care development or redevelopment, deciding what communications technology to incorporate during the planning phase can be overwhelming. With literally thousands of products on the market, it can be difficult to assess what technology is essential, what is a ‘nice to have’, and what technology is going to have the biggest impact on the quality of the experience for both residents and staff alike.

Five steps to understanding your technology requirements

A good aged care technology system will not only connect residents with support staff but residents with friends and families outside of the home. Technology enables grandparents to talk to grandchildren a street, state or country away, as well as easily request assistance from support and medical personal. This is the ‘ones and zeroes’ in aged care.

Translating the ones and zeros to a workable system in aged care takes a good understanding of the available technology and what your development needs both from an operational and cost perspective.

So how do you translate the ones and zeros into a workable technology system during the design phase? I recommend undertaking a five-step process of assessing the:

1.        Method and level of care

2.        Operational requirements

3.        Budget

4.        User buy-in

5.        Detailed performance brief

Only after these factors have been properly assessed can the selection process for technology begin.

1.   Method and level of care

The first step is understanding the care requirements of the various residents. Aged care generally falls into one of the following four categories. As each level has significantly different care requirements, the type and level of technology needs to change accordingly.

a.      Independent Living units/retirement villages

Resident living independently in an apartment or townhouse setting with onsite support services but no direct care provided.

b.      Low-care Residential

Resident living in a residential aged care development where they are provided with support as they need it but are afforded freedom in their day-to-day lives.

c.      High-care residential

Resident living in a residential aged care development where they are provided with directed support for daily activities.

d.      Dementia

Resident living in a residential aged care development where they are provided with high level directed support to undertake daily activities.

Image credit Aidan Hancock

2.  Operational requirements

Once we understand the level and method of care required, the technology requirements can be broken down as follows:

Independent living units/retirement villages

For these residents, it is essential to provide an independent environment whilst ensuring support services are readily available if needed.

For an independent living development (ILU) where residents are independently living with a minimum of assistance, the following technology would be implemented at a minimum:

  • Integrated communications systems including intercom and back to base phone systems that allow residence to contact support personal.
  • Video phone system to allow face-to-face communication with care givers or family.
  • Emergency call system.

The systems in independent living are integrated into the living units and are designed to be unobtrusive to prevent the units from having a clinical feel.

Low care residential aged care

Low care residential aged care (RAC) is the transition point from the unobtrusive/low impact option to a higher ‘service delivery’ option. A typical technology installation within low care RAC would typically comprise of the following:

  • Basic nurse/staff call systems to allow for patients to communicate and call staff.
  • Video phone system to allow face to face communication with care givers or family.

These services are installed in readily visible locations to provide reassurance to residents that assistance is a button push away.

High care residential

In a high care environment, additional functionality is provided to allow staff to more closely monitor patients. This may include:

  • Bed alarms to alert when a patient is wandering out of bed.
  • Wireless patient handsets, allowing residents to have a call button on their person at all times.


When residents move from high care to dementia care the focus shifts and we need to consider patient security as well as patient care, as patients are often not fully aware of their surroundings. In this level of care, the environment is approaching a hospital environment in its appearance and functionality.

Whilst the patient care systems are in full view as per high care, care is to be taken to make the security systems as unobtrusive as possible. In addition to the high care solutions, the technology installation for dementia patients can include:

  • Patient tracking systems.
  • Unobtrusive security systems to keep residents within the patient care areas.

3.   Budget

As with any project, the budget is critical and will ultimately determine what technology can be implemented. A delicate balance has to be maintained between:

  • Budget.
  • Functionality.
  • Future proofing and expand-ability.

Of all the factors to consider, the budget is often the deciding factor in what system is installed. Fortunately, with the technology available today, we often recommend that the client install a scalable system. Initially only the minimum system is installed at day one, but the equipment has the capability to expand over time. A good example of this is an IP based nurse call system – once the backbone communications cabling is installed, additional devices and functionality can be added over time.

Image Credit Domenico Loia

 4.   User input and buy-in

Once you have determined what technology you think you should have, it’s critical to get input and buy-in from the end users.

User input buy-in can be looked at in two ways:

  • Users who are residents
  • Users who are care providers.

For users who are residents, who typically live in an ILU development, the focus is primarily on what functionality they want whilst ensuring that the ILU doesn’t look or feel like a hospital. To achieve ‘user’ buy in from residents in ILU and low care environments, you could consider interviewing prospective residents and their families to determine the following:

  • How the residents want to connect with staff or the outside world
  • How staff want/need to connect with the residents
  • What are the operational requirements of the site

When moving into the RAC environment, the focus is more heavily on the user as the care provider, as the installation has to line up with the method of care delivery. The buy in is twofold: is the technology suitable for the delivery of care and is the technology configured to that it can be used by the residents? To obtain input and buy in for this level of care, you could consider interview workshops with the care providers to determine the following:

  • How the residents want to connect with staff or the outside world?
  • How staff want/need to connect with the residents?
  • What are the operational requirements of the site?
  • How do the staff want to monitor and manage mid to high care patients?
  • How much operational flexibility is required?

5.   Detailed performance brief

Using the information on the level of care, operational requirements, budget and user input and buy-in, a detailed performance brief is then developed. This is one of the most critical steps in the whole process as this determines the path going forward.

The performance brief will address the following;

  • System functional description
  • Operational methodology
  • Technology to be implemented
  • Scalability
  • Future proofing

Translating requirements into design solutions

Once you’ve determined what your requirements are, then you can look to the market to determine what’s available. To assist this process, ask your design team:

  • To facilitate meetings with equipment vendors.
  • For insights from other aged care developments they have worked on.
  • To interview other operators to obtain feedback on how similar systems operate on other sites.

From this feedback and accepted performance brief, a functional design is developed. As with any high technology, the design is a fluid undertaking. Throughout the design process, we constantly review the proposed design, providing feedback to the client at major milestones.

The end game is a system that provides the level of care required whilst being user-friendly, improves resident quality of life, is practical and economical.

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