Community care assessment and the web: what do we know already and where are we heading?
The use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) by the Non Government sector and the broader community care sector, including the interface with health services, has developed rapidly in the last decade and more recently has begun to generate some useful tools that may actually improve the consumers experience of receiving services. The development of ICT tools utilising different modalities (electronic data collection and storage, web pages, sms, podcasts) may improve the community care systems capacity to describe consumer needs and risks, to organise a service response, and to more easily report on their programs activities. This improved capacity may in turn help to redefine how service systems are planned and managed and improve the quality of how services are delivered. The first part of this paper describes some of the lessons for community care in the age of electronic data manipulation that are already well understood: the intractability of integration problems (your integration is my fragmentation); the requirement for a common language of client/consumer and carer assessment; requirement for common data elements and common data transmission standards that enable information sharing; and the requirement for trust and shared protocols for exchanging information at a local level. The second part of the paper is much more speculative in looking forward, given the current rapidly evolving nature of the technology, and the various governments policy and service development agendas, to map a path towards a more interesting electronic future and arguably a more useful service system. The road map includes ways to improve the capacity of community care systems to build skills and competencies, exchange useful information and build a knowledge base over time. The map also includes some directions through dangerous territory, with some signposts to avoid the inherent tendency towards service system fragmentation, and ways we may be able to use the new technologies to enhance civil society and offset the tendencies towards greater centralised control. Finally, the paper asserts the need to develop an ongoing program of research and development of ICT and promote its responsible use by community care workers and communities.