Aged care and how it is delivered occupies the focus of many individuals, including peak bodies, commercial and not-for-profit residential aged care providers and community services agencies, health practitioners, care workers, politicians, architects, researchers and academics, to name but a few.

Human centred design, is the application of processes that place people at the centre of the outcomes of design, whether that be business models, products or service delivery. It is the approach that Communications Agency, Ellis Jones and innovAGEING applied recently in their Realm of Possibilities workshop for 25 aged care executives on 4 July 2018.

The objective was to apply design thinking and human centred design for aged care, by exploring real life interactions with the aged care sector and identify core opportunities to meet both the need for business productivity outcomes and to adequately address the needs of individual older people and their families.

Outcomes included the exploration of the initial conversations that aged care providers have with individuals and family members and the balance required between informational and emotional needs. For many this interaction will be at the point of crisis. The design thinking method provides the opportunity for providers to map out scenarios with consumers to make continued improvements and provide staff and management training around the initial interactions, reported Janine Yeates, Senior Account Manager at Ellis Jones.

This is a new landscape with consumers entering the aged care market earlier, into independent living communities and accessing community services while living independently in their own homes, long before entering an aged care residential facility. The assumption that the families of the elderly are bewildered by a complex aged care system, is no longer true with recent Australian Government measures to make aged care services more accessible and transparent.

It is suggested that perhaps the traditional linear pathways be replaced by a circular models of advice. The re-conception of residential aged care, as a place not only that serves as a final resting place, but place of recuperation and re-ablement is proposed. One could argue that ‘respite care’ was once on offer but the economic implications of keeping options open for flexibility was not cost effective.

Any negative publicity of providers placing profit above empathetic service delivery is simply, ‘bad for business’ and the age care sector, offers the opportunity for substantial profit margins. This however should never be at the cost of human suffering.  If we place ourselves in the position of many elderly in residential care, would we be satisfied with the current staff ratio and settle for a less than a 20 minute shower and dressing experience?  When one is physically vulnerable through ageing or chronic ill health, feeling that you are an ‘inconvenience’ is diametrically opposed to the claims of individualised care and supporting our elderly to live lives of purpose.

The challenge is to build modern architecturally flexible communities that incorporate the needs of the healthy and those with multiple complex health conditions and which promote living a meaningful connected life with family, friends and the community that matters to each individual. A skilled workforce that is both intrinsically motivated and extrinsically remunerated is essential.

No doubt such clever social innovation will come at a cost which may be far too high for the majority of Australians.