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When the time came for her granddad to move to a nursing home, Allison Nikula was worried. She was an occupational therapist in charge of 440 care workers in Adelaide, but the thought of putting her own kin in an institution more than 800 kilometres away in Geelong made her uneasy.

Aged care, like disability and home care, touches everyone in an emotional way. The associated horror stories are well known, and when Allison went to visit her grandfather in Victoria, the relief she felt at seeing him healthy and happy was palpable. And the selfie she took with him to reassure her mum back in Adelaide became the spark that led to CareApp – a mobile app to connect aged care residents to their families and loved ones through video calls, photos and more.

“A selfie stopped my mum constantly calling the provider to check up on my granddad,” Allison recalls. “And I thought, what if there was a way to show people who are far away what life is really like for their loved ones in aged care?” This was in 2017, and it’s still the question that drives the very purpose and philosophy of CareApp – using technology to take care services beyond the medical and clinical and make it a beautiful and connected experience for residents and their families.

“How hard can it be?” These are Allison Nikula’s self-confessed “famous last words.” Her journey as the founder of a start-up included some steep learning curves. When she stood in front of hundreds of potential investors for her app, Allison’s nerves got the better of her and she ran off stage before completing her pitch. Over the next couple of years, however, she got through the prototypes, trial versions, financing rounds and growth phases; she even won awards, including the Emerging Innovator award from Women in Innovation SA. Best of all, overcoming these challenges gave Allison a clear idea of what’s needed to build a successful start-up – purpose, persistence,

Wherever Allison Nikula introduced her idea for CareApp – from the first sketches back home in SA to pitches for Meals on Wheels in NSW and at the Angel Capital Summit in the U.S. – the reactions have been overwhelmingly positive. “It’s clear you get us,” are the words she hears most frequently from aged care providers, who are her primary clients. Using CareApp has paid off handsomely for them, as the technology drastically reduces the number of worried and anxious phone calls and complaints from family members, saving them time to provide better care for the residents and giving them the opportunity to showcase the great work they are doing.

Keeping the lines of communication open between the CareApp team, care services, providers and their families and clients is beneficial for everyone. “Every conversation we have,” Allison says, “is an opportunity to learn and create a beautiful experience.”

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The need to connect with loved ones became particularly evident when Covid-19 hit and nursing homes in particular, were locked down for lengthy periods amid worrying conditions for the residents. “Don’t worry, we’ve got you,” is CareApp’s core motto. And so, in this time of heightened stress, Allison decided to make CareApp free for every provider around Australia for six months. While this was a huge risk for a budding enterprise, the support provided through the app proved to be so valuable that when the free trial ended, 83% of providers switched to a paid version of CareApp.

Innovation within care delivery is challenging. There are assumptions that older people or people with disabilities are afraid of technology and that technology in general will dehumanise the care experience and take away the human connection. This is not the case with CareApp, which is simple, easy to use and solves real problems by keeping people connected even over great distances.

Moreover, CareApp has reassured family members of care recipients that most providers do a great job under often difficult circumstances. Beautiful care should be celebrated, and although we can’t singlehandedly change the narrative around care service delivery, “Allison Nikula says, “we can certainly change how those providers are perceived.”

CareApp has positioned itself as the leading platform for family engagement and communication in the care sector. The app is compatible with iOS and Android operating systems and most web browsers.

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