Technicalities of ageing in place : a case study of the integration of residential care services through the use of information technology (IT) in the changing context of care

Ibrahim, Rahimah (2006) Technicalities of ageing in place : a case study of the integration of residential care services through the use of information technology (IT) in the changing context of care. PhD by Publication, Queensland University of Technology.


Through a case study about the impact of IT adoption in a residential aged care organisation, this thesis examines the increasing pressure for service integration as mainstreamed through reform policies. Specifically, the research investigates the role of IT in facilitating the 1997 aged care reform agenda of 'ageing in place' focusing on the levels of transformation from the policy context to the organisational/management context, and to the context of service provision by care staff. A single embedded case study (Yin, 1993) is used in order to meet the general objective to capture the dynamics of the impact of ageing in place in the three social contexts. The research is informed by social constructionism, a theoretical framework that emphasises the significance and effects of language in shaping social realities (Ainsworth, 2001; Hosking, 1999). The framework, therefore, justifies the qualitative analysis of both written (i.e., policy documents) and spoken (i.e., interviews with staff) texts to address meaning in relation to context.

Changing technologies can result in altered societal structures (Betz, 2003) at all levels, from the very complex to the very basic. As such, it is important to understand a few basic premises of technology. First, technology is a human invention to improve the well-being of society (Ayres, 1996). Consequently, technological inventions that improve the quality of life are seen by people as a necessity for modern living. In the case of ageing, modernisation and technological advances effectively resulted in people becoming healthier and living longer (Department of Health and Aged Care [DHAC], 2000). Second, technology is a human means to control nature (Betz, 2003). As such, technological advances can be seen as a modernising process of predicting and regulating the effects of the trends existing in the environment, such as ageing. Ageing in the twenty first century presents a challenge to government's development policies because ageing is depicted as a steady force with a long-term economic impact (Johnson, 1999). Third, a technology becomes powerful when it is sponsored by the market (Betz, 2003; Hughes, 1983). Unless a technology is backed by business, it lacks the influence on a large scale. Fourth, technology is used to enable change. By using IT, governments, business and the community are co-operating through a paradigm similar to the business sector. As a result, the service environment is shifting towards more business-like approaches. To sustain the changes brought by a different paradigm and modes of operation, the rhetoric of technology is employed. Therefore, the purpose of the study is to investigate the use of IT in processes of organisational adaptations to reform, which requires the examination of: a) specific meaning of IT as used in long-term care policies for older people since the last structural reform, b) the rationale behind the introduction of a new IT system into a residential care organisation, and c) the meaning of IT as articulated by care staff who have experienced a change in technology.

The first paper represents a rhetorical analysis at the macro or policy level. There is a significant influence of a global political actor in developing proactive strategies on ageing, which results in a new, multi-organisational approach in delivering government-subsidised services, such as residential care. Three key institutional texts were selected to represent international to local policy development since the time ageing became a global concern. Since then, ageing is also viewed as a human rights issue. Using Burke's pentad, an analytic framework to analyse rhetoric in texts (Stillar, 1998), these institutional texts are seen to employ the rhetoric of 'technology for sustainability' to justify changes to policy approaches that seek long-term viability. Technology, in the name of sustainable development ensures support for economic growth, which balances the long-term effects of population ageing. The existence of a global force, such as population ageing, allows the intervening powers of the UN in mainstreaming ageing into development policies. Accordingly, it initiates corresponding actions at national (Australian Commonwealth Government) and state (Queensland Government) levels. IT is a medium of communication, knowledge transfer, and standard practice at these levels of actions.

The second paper represents a qualitative analysis at the meso or organisational level. This paper explores the cogent rationale in the introduction of a computer-based, care documentation system in a large residential aged care organisation. Twenty two staff, from every level of the organisation, were interviewed to get an insight into the role of IT in substantive changes to organisational structure and modes of service provision. Responses from staff indicate external and internal influence that pressured the organisation to change. In the bid to sustain the future of aged care, the industry is changing through the introduction of new structure of service delivery. The Aged Care Structural Reform instigated a shift towards sustainable service provision that is consumer-driven, with a fixed cost compliance mechanism and performance criteria that are tied to funding. Facing the requirement for evidence to corroborate funding, a residential care organisation changed its structure of service delivery by introducing a new strategic direction. IT is part of this new strategic direction, planning, and operations of a changed service environment.

The third paper represents a qualitative analysis at the micro or individual level to examine the impact of IT at frontline service delivery. This study is also based on interviews with twenty-two staff, across the organisational structure; however, this time the focus is more on staff who are involved in providing direct care to older residents at the organisation. The reason behind this is that IT has always been a management tool which handles management priorities such as financial planning and performance monitoring. The themes arising from the interviews indicate discord at the level of service delivery from the introduction of a new technical system. It also points to the idea that staff generally refer to ethical ideas and future promise of the new system.

In summary, these three papers attached to this thesis support the notion that the meaning of technology is socially constructed. First, technology in the aged care sector has particular reference to improving or enhancing the well-being of older people, and in this case, the provision of high quality services that fulfil the needs of older people. Second, IT has an important role in meeting the evidence-based requirement, such as in the use of information in manipulating the use of resources required for the ageing population. Third, the meaning of IT is conceived from the context requiring its use such as the need to use resource efficiently to ensure long-term sustainability, which were emphasised in the last reform. Fourth, IT is used to enable structural changes in organisations to implement generic practices originated from the business sector, requiring the use of strong rhetoric such as balance and future. The limit of this case study is that these dimensions of technology can only be applied to the specific context of aged care and is not generalisable to other political contexts. However, the strength of the study rests on the macro-, meso- and micro-analysis of the meaning of technology. Therefore, future studies should investigate and compare the dimensions of technology in other contexts.

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ID Code: 16484
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD by Publication)
Supervisor: Buys, Elinor & Barnett, Karen
Keywords: residential aged care, service integration, reform, Aged Care Structural Reform 1997, information technology (IT), technological advances, rhetoric of technology, rhetorical analysis, Burke’s pentad, sustainability, ageing in place, policy development, organisational context, service delivery, global to local, glocal, social constructionism, qualitative analysis
Divisions: ?? School of Humanities and Human Services ??
Past > QUT Faculties & Divisions > QUT Carseldine - Humanities & Human Services
Department: QUT Carseldine
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Copyright Owner: Copyright Rahimah Ibrahim
Deposited On: 03 Dec 2008 04:04
Last Modified: 28 Oct 2011 19:48

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