Striking a Balance with Communications Technology in the Home Care Industry
I began my career in home care in 1985, shortly after graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in Health Administration. My first job was a scheduling coordinator in a very busy home care company. To this day, I still say it is the most important job, the one I loved the most, and the one I would never do again. If you do it right, it will test you, drain you, and reward you in ways you cannot imagine.
The relationships I developed with my clients and caregivers and the extent to which I would go to ensure their complete satisfaction helped me grow my office from approximately 1500 hours per week to over 5000 per week in just under a year. Do not misunderstand and believe that this was accomplished because everything went perfectly. Quite the contrary!
Caregivers sometimes failed, clients got angry, and the families that needed our services were under a great deal of stress. Often, this stress was directed back at me. Had it not been for the time I invested in these relationships, the story would likely have been very different.
During the more than 10 years I spent on the home care provider side, technology was sparse, particularly in the non-Medicare home care world. The limited technologies that were available could not come close to my intricate, color-coded paper schedule and extensive, well-labeled log binders. It was truly a high-touch business where every change in schedule, every need, and every service required a personal interaction.
So, in 1999, after selling my home care operation, imagine the irony of me ending up in home care technology.
Being from the “old school” is both a blessing and a curse. I whole heartily embrace technology. I envy today’s owners operating with the tools at their disposal. Agency owners and administrators have a way to ensure that should the scheduling coordinator win the lottery and take off on a trip around the world that they are not taking with them the intimate knowledge necessary to continue great service.
The intimate knowledge of the needs of your clients and caregivers must always be at your finger-tips — not in the head of whomever the job falls to and that is what makes technology so invaluable. It is a vital tool as each agency competes for the limited caregivers in their service area. Technologies free a scheduler from many time-consuming tasks by affording the ability to communicate quickly and en masse. But while technology may be a great tool for an efficient communication, it alone does not foster the relationship that is so necessary for the high touch home care agency.
There are lessons to be learned from the pre-digital age. Back then, it was difficult for a caregiver to say no as I pleaded with him/her to take a shift. Excellent schedulers became skilled at the art of persuasion, building trusting relationships with staff, clients, and families. With each interaction came the opportunity to convey genuine concern, interest, and appreciation for everything that these dedicated caregivers brought to the table. I learned what they needed and what was going on in their lives which provided me the information to provide personal service.
Without the benefits of today’s communication technology, it was important to clearly communicate what was expected of a caregiver. They were to be at this house on these days at this time and were to provide these services. If anything changes on our end, they would receive a call from an agency staff member. If the caregiver is unable to fulfill any part of this assignment, they were expected to call the office—generally with at least 24-hours’ notice.
Today, some agencies report that caregivers often do not show up if they do not receive a daily reminder. This is evidence that relying on technology alone is flawed. My incidents of “no shows” were very low without the benefit of technology. It is easy for people to claim ignorance or be irresponsible when they do not connect the action to an actual person.
Caregivers often work for multiple agencies most of whom have access to the same technologies. They can receive a barrage of alerts, reminders, and other instant communications are from multiple sources. Ask yourself, “Why you?” What would compel a caregiver to accept and respond to you above all of the other agencies? The answer should be you!
No matter how dependent you become on your technology, it is important never to forget the human element and the reason we are all doing this – which is, ultimately, to bring comfort and healing. While embracing technology, do not fail to embrace people!