Melbourne Ageing Research Collaboration (MARC)

Melbourne Ageing Research Collaboration


The Melbourne Ageing Research Collaboration (MARC) is a unique collaboration of health, research, aged care and advocacy organisations working together to improve the lives of older people.

Our vision is that older people received the best possible care and support through services, programs and policies which support health and optimal quality of life.

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The COVID pandemic brought challenges to organisations in caring for older people. Innovations and adopting new ways to overcome these challenges were required. Many of these innovations came in the form of technological adaptations and adoptions. In this webinar, MARC invited speakers from its member organisations to share their “COVID conversion” (thank you, David Skyes, Dementia Australia) experiences, lessons and outcomes using technology to care for older people. MARC Director, Debra O’Connor welcomed attendees and speakers to the showcase and provided an overview of MARC. Dr Isobel Frean from the Digital Health and Co-operative Research Centre chaired the showcase.

Our first speaker was Wennie Van Riet, Manager for the Reach, Train and Employ program at COTA Victoria. This project focused on a place-based approach to support mature jobseekers aged 50 years and older into paid work in aged care and disability. Wennie discussed the numerous challenges faced with switching to an online delivery platform, including retaining students while studying online, and finding resources during the early months of COVID-19 in 2020. As a result, many of the students and groups required encouragement and additional support to navigate the program and achieve program outcomes. While at times the delivery of the program proved challenging, there were some positive aspects of the program which included graduates of the program moving into aged care or disability work, and a few continuing with further studies.

Wennie Van Riet - Lessons in supporting mature aged jobseekers

Dr Jag Singh Dhaliwal, GP and Medical Director for Engagement, Aged Care GP Chair, and GPs in Residential Aged Care Facilities during COVID Steering Group at NWMPHN spoke about using technology to provide residential aged care GP services during COVID-19 in 2020. His initial message was clear: “Get prepared as soon as you can”. His presentation outlined a three-step plan: 1.) Preparation; 2.) Consultation; and 3.) Follow-up. A key message from Jag’s presentation was the importance of empathy and patience, particularly with implementing new technology. He also discussed changes in the culture of using electronic records and how COVID-19 circumstances had improved their adoption.

Dr Jag Singh Dhaliwal - Technology and residential aged care GP services during COVID-19

Keeping with the theme of residential aged care, Pip Horsman from Australian Unity discussed the use of technology for communication. There were difficulties amongst staff with the implementation of telehealth and the use of electronic sign-in for staff members at sites. However for residents in retirement facilities, they used technology to overcome the changed circumstances in “a brave new world”. To overcome visiting restrictions, residents found novel ways of communicating through video technology, and Australian Unity introduced a buddy system to enable staff to interact with residents on a regular basis through video technology. Residents bounced learnings of technology off each other and used this peer support to try new things e.g. with many residents learning how to use UberEats.

Switching to the hospital setting, Dr Nancy Chen, a consultant geriatrician for Continuing Care at Austin Health discussed innovations to ensure continued delivery of the Austin Health Community Geriatrics Program. The impacts of COVID19 on the Community Geriatrics program included the fragmentation of healthcare, increased vulnerability of older people and unmanageable patient waiting list. To combat this, triage was centralised and a Rapid Access Clinic was developed to improve access for older people to a comprehensive geriatric assessment. This model was flexible, including telehealth as a consulting option. The model improved delivery of the Community Geriatrics program, which reduced outpatient waiting lists, and reduced time to triage and case closure. The use of telehealth, however, was limited and COVID19 screening procedures and PPE management were challenges faced by this new service.

Dr Nancy Chen - COVID-19: Impact and innovations in community geriatrics

From an education standpoint, Dr David Sykes, Director at Dementia Australia, spoke about Dementia Australia’s “COVID conversion” to an online format, improving the reach of its program. This resulted in over 3,000 participants attending Dementia Australia’s virtual symposium. In the usual face to face format, a goal of 300 participants is considered great; so the increased reach was positive. COVID help sheets were downloaded over 17,000 times from their website and over 1,000 professionals attended their online training programs. However to achieve these great outcomes by transiting to online support required a lot of education, support and higher levels of induction and training. Not all staff and clients were willing to make the transition. Not all training could be delivered online, and the duration and content of online programs needs to be considered when planning for future education offerings.

Dr David Sykes - The COVID conversion: Transforming Dementia Australia services

Our final speaker was Dr Paul Yates, from the Austin Health Residential InReach service, providing an overview of pivoting to telehealth for the management of medical conditions in residential aged care. Some of the successes of using telehealth included collaboration with peers including webinars and catch-ups, Zoom Webinars for large-scale family conferences, and tablet on-wheels as a communication tool. Some of the drawbacks of using telehealth was that they had limited application during crisis points brought on by the COVID pandemic, and there was difficulties in testing new approaches in providing services. Ensuring COVID sanitation compliance also proved challenging. To summarise the reflections on the experiences of adopting technology, Paul emphasised the need to upskill before a crisis occurs and having a Plan B.

Dr Paul Yates - Turning to digital health during the COVID-19 pandemic

Despite the diversity of speakers and the projects discussed, there were some common themes. Firstly, many presenters reflected that the COVID-19 pandemic forced them into adopting technologies out of necessity, accelerating innovation and adoption. Secondly, many presentations spoke about the need to manage complex human emotions and interactions. The pandemic was already stressful enough without having to learn and adopt new technologies on the fly. Having open lines of communication between staff, colleagues and older people was important to reduce stress and anxiety of all. Finally, although telehealth is a useful innovation, difficulties can arise from the use and implementation - it is important to have a plan for any implementation.

The session concluded with Debra O’Connor thanking Isobel Frean as the chair, the speakers and the audience for attending, in what was a thought-engaging and discussion-seeding showcase.

Booking for this event has now closed.