Improving the quality of care for older Australians in hospital

Building on their nationally recognised work for improving aged care, a Flinders University team will now turn its attention to quality improvements for older people within the healthcare system.

Led by Matthew Flinders Professor Julie Ratcliffe, Professor of Health Economics in Flinders’ Caring Futures Institute, the project will create tools to measure the quality of care that older people receive in clinical settings, including hospitals.

“Quality improvement efforts within the health care system are urgently needed, especially for older people, and yet their voices are rarely heard,” says Professor Ratcliffe.

“This is largely because we do not have tailored tools for routine system-wide monitoring and reporting of older people’s care experience and quality of life.

“As Australia’s population continues to age, and the percentage of older people in our hospitals continues to grow, we need to ensure their needs are being met in our increasingly pressured hospital system.”

Funded by almost $3 million from the National Health and Medical Research Council’s Investigator Grant Scheme, Professor Ratcliffe and her team will:

  1. Develop, validate and implement preference-based Quality of Life and Quality of Care experience measures for clinical care.
  2. Generate new evidence-based guidance to reduce an over-reliance on proxy assessors and ensure that older people with cognitive impairment and dementia are empowered to self-assess their own Quality of Life and Quality of Care experience wherever possible.
  3. Apply the newly developed economic evaluation methods to a series of clinical interventions/new models of care targeting older people.

The project further develops Professor Ratcliffe’s Quality of life – Aged Care Consumers (QOL-ACC) and Quality of Care Experience – Aged Care Consumers (QCE-ACC) measurement tools, which were rolled out nationally across the aged care system in 2023, following recommendations from the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety.

Matthew Flinders Professor Julie Ratcliffe, Caring Futures Institute

“This roll out has meant for the first time in the history of Australia’s aged care system, the voices of more than 240,000 residents from over 2,700 facilities are now being directly used for informing quality assessment processes and quality improvement in aged care,” says Professor Ratcliffe.

“Leveraging and adapting these existing platforms, we want to further develop and validate new preference-based Quality of Life and Quality of Care experience measures especially in areas that have the potential to maximise quality of life, including transition care and rehabilitation.

“The new tools will be implemented in a healthcare system that at the moment has a poor track record in listening to the voices of older people. Including older people in the development of these tools will empower older patients to drive quality improvements, influence health policy and decision-making to positively impact their health and wellbeing.”

Flinders University Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Raymond Chan extended his congratulations to Professor Ratcliffe on being rewarded from the NHMRC’s largest flagship funding scheme.

“Professor Julie Ratcliffe is already international recognised for her work addressing the quality of care for some of the most vulnerable in our society, and this grant is yet another measure of her success,” says Professor Chan.

“This project will see her take on a new focus in our healthcare system and with what she has already achieved in the aged care sector, she is well placed to succeed.

“Flinders’ Caring Futures Institute has set out to dedicate their research to a future that provides the highest standard of health care and Professor Ratcliffe’s work is an exemplary effort in this.”

The project ‘New health economic tools for improving the health and wellbeing of older Australians’ will receive $2,924,080 from the 2024 Investigator Grants Leadership 2 Scheme. The Investigator Grant scheme is the NHMRC’s largest funding scheme. It provides Australia’s highest-performing researchers, across the spectrum of health research and at all career stages, with consolidated funding for their salary, if required, and a significant research support package for 5 years.

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