Where best practice care is falling short: study

Macquarie University

Tuesday, 23 January, 2024

Where best practice care is falling short: study

Aged care home residents are not receiving best practice care for several common conditions, new research suggests.

The Macquarie University study, conducted by the Australian Institute of Health Innovation, found that although residents do receive best care for continence, this is not the case for six other common conditions — including mental health, end-of-life care and urinary tract infections.

With the number of people aged 80 years and over in Australia expected to quadruple to 1.8 million by 2050, this research plays a key role in highlighting the importance of evidence-based care within aged care facilities.

How was the study conducted?

In the paper to be published in BMC Medicine, researchers evaluated the care received by 294 residents across 27,585 care encounters in 25 residential aged care facilities.

Clinical practice guidelines contain recommendations intended to ensure patients receive care that has proven benefit. National experts worked with the researchers to identify indicators of care drawn from the clinical practice guidelines for 16 conditions or care processes. Trained aged care nurses then reviewed records of care delivered in residential facilities between 1 March and 31 May 2021 to assess adherence with the indicators.

With aged care nurses conducting these specialised reviews, the researchers found that on average, residents received care in line with guidelines 53.2% of the time. Six conditions (skin integrity, end-of-life care, infection, sleep, medication and depression) had less than 50% adherence with indicators for best care.

Lead author and patient safety expert Professor Peter Hibbert said the results pointed to the continued difficulties faced by the aged care sector, including workforce shortages with medical, nursing and allied health staff.

The human right to evidence-based care

The lowest rate of adherence to best care was for the management of depression, despite more than half of all permanent aged care residents experiencing depression symptoms. The research found that only 1% of residents who had been receiving antidepressants for four weeks were monitored on a monthly basis for side effects as per the guidelines.

The research also found that urinary tract infections were not being managed according to guidelines designed to ensure frail older people received evidence-based treatment and antibiotics were not used unnecessarily.

“Being treated according to evidence-based care is a fundamental human right and essential for ensuring people in aged care are safe and experience the best possible quality of life,” Hibbert said.

“Caring for older people in aged care is likely to become more and more challenging as demand increases and resources become more stretched.

“Understanding where and how evidence-based care is being delivered, or not, is very important to keeping people safe and allocating limited resources. Listening to the experiences of residents and their families is also essential.”

Hibbert said that the study results are not intended to judge individual aged care providers — rather, they provide commentary on the overall aged care sector, which is currently struggling to provide residents with the right care at the right time.

“The data for this study was collected around the time that the Royal Commission into Aged Care reported its findings in 2021. The Royal Commission recommended that registered nurses should be onsite 24/7 and that other healthcare staff be more available. These changes are very welcome; however, broader workforce shortages have increased since 2021, which has continued to put pressure on the system,” Hibbert said.

A lack of ongoing systematic monitoring of the performance of the sector also contributes to the lower rates of evidence-based care and the results provide valuable insights into specific conditions and clinical processes where improvements should be targeted, he said.

Image credit: iStock.com/porcorex

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