Sir Ray Avery and his wife have a nightly ritual of summing up each other’s day in three adjectives. If I had to apply it to the first day of the New Zealand Aged Care Association conference, I’d opt for terrifying, thought-provoking and pungent.

The last is a nod to the conference location, Rotorua; the first two are perhaps an indication of how futurist thinking both fascinates and scares me.

In introducing the conference Max Robins spoke about the “relentless trend towards consumerism”, a theme which gathered momentum as each of the subsequent speakers took the stand.

Sir Ray Avery emphasized the importance of knowing who our customers are before we can even consider innovating.

“The most important customer is the person you sleep with – if you don’t get that right, you’re buggered,” he quipped. “After that, it’s the people you work with. Treat them like a family.”

After that, it was the residents, then potential residents.

Then it was all about being awake to possibility, he said. Providers are in the best position to know what their customers want and need.

“Innovation is actually very, very simple.”

He gave the example of wearable technology that can transcend national borders and global networks to monitor aspects of a person’s health.

And from Sir Ray’s talk of smart watches it was a heady ascent into the future, with Singularity University’s Kaila Colbin taking the stand to talk about the exponential growth and convergence of technologies. She presented the likelihood, rather than the possibility, of a world with self-drive cars, and internal nanobots that pre-empt our health problems.

The concept of immortality was perhaps a step too far for this linear thinker, but it certainly presented the audience with some interesting, albeit slightly terrifying, ideas to take away.

Cam Ansell’s presentation brought the audience back down to earth, or rather Australia, where he discussed the good, the bad and the ugly of the Australian bonding system. Its strengths include the Australian government’s ability to underwrite around $23 billion of bonds as well as support the financially disadvantaged.

There were many take-aways for New Zealand providers from Ansell’s talk. He argued we need to embrace interRAI and harness its potential to provide accurate assessment data that can better align funding to the actual cost of care. He felt assessment could help remove artificial barriers between home care and residential aged care, allowing for better integration between the various levels of care. And he felt self-assessment was the way to go.

After the NZACA’s annual general meeting, delegates descended upon the trade show to clink glasses of bubbles with each other and to reflect on exactly how much has happened since last year’s conference.

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