The world of healthcare has been forever changed as a result of the COVID-19 public health epidemic. Home health care has become more prevalent in the past few years and it is certain that this branch of the medical field will continue to expand in the future.
An increasing number of people are choosing to take advantage of home care services in lieu of extended and expensive hospital stays. The benefits that home health agencies can provide for their clients are numerous, but they can always be improved.
As more clients choose to utilize the services that home health agencies provide, it is time that these agencies begin to put their clients, the consumers of their service, at the forefront of their business model.
In this day and age, client-centered care is not only an expected practice but an essential one for home care agencies that wish to thrive. Here are seven steps that your agency can take to attract clients and put itself ahead of the competition.
Be Consistent and Available
One of the most effective ways to build rapport and brand loyalty with your clients is by ensuring that your staff is always consistent and available. This means that during business hours there is always someone available to answer phone calls, emails, and any questions that current or future clients may have.
It can be beneficial to have an after-hours answering service equipped with the answers to some of the most common questions that your clients may have. If such a service is infeasible, ensure that your staff returns any missed calls or emails that may have been missed the day before.
In addition, consider implementing a live-chat feature on your website. Many potential clients may be uncomfortable speaking to someone on the phone, and this will encourage them to reach out and ask questions. By being available through multiple mediums, your team can ensure that clients’ concerns are being promptly addressed which builds trust.
After your availability has been broadened, the next step is to ensure consistency. All customer-facing team members should have the same training, and they should all be able to answer questions with the same answers.
Consistency doesn’t end with answering customer questions, however. It also applies to the experience that clients are expecting. Most home care clients prefer to work with the same caregiver as often as possible, and they may get frustrated and lose trust with a company that is constantly sending them different caregivers.
By investing in a scheduling system, particularly one tailored to home care agencies, this issue can be avoided. Not only will this relieve frustration for your staff due to last-minute changes, but your clients will be happier as well.
Ensure That Customer-Facing Staff Are Personable
There is no denying that knowledge and training are invaluable to the client experience, however, the way that your staff interacts with their clients is equally important. An ill-trained, rude, or disinterested staff member can do just as much damage to your organization in the age of social media as a staff member that doesn’t know what they are doing.
Clients appreciate staff members that are empathetic, compassionate, and knowledgeable when it comes to their care. It is not enough to be efficient, caregivers must also be willing to listen to their clients, advocate for them, and ensure that their concerns and questions are addressed.
Hire caregivers that demonstrate compassion and empathy, and ensure that they understand the importance of body language. The way that a person says something is just as important, if not more so, than what they actually said.
The Importance of Body Language
The importance of body language can’t be overstated. Most experts agree that between 70% to 93% of communication is nonverbal body language and tone of voice. This means that even if your nurses and support staff are saying the right things if their body language and attitude don’t match then it doesn’t matter.
While most job skills can be taught, it can be difficult to train people to be truly empathetic or friendly. If a person has a naturally negative attitude or has closed-off or reserved body language, then they may not be the best fit for a home care agency.
Ensure that your staff and nurses understand how the way they interact with others, especially clients, matters. Don’t be afraid to implement training classes and disciplinary measures if multiple clients are reporting an unfriendly or rude staff member.
Similarly, reward staff members that are consistently friendly, compassionate, and going above and beyond for their clients. Incentives like an extra PTO day, coffee gift cards, or buying them lunch can be effective in encouraging positive behaviors.
Take Patient Concerns Seriously
To ensure that your home care agency excels and is widely respected, it is essential that your support staff and nurses take all patient complaints and concerns seriously. This also extends to the concerns of family members.
In the majority of cases these concerns are valid and what starts off as a small problem can escalate into something far more serious if left unsolved. Some of the most common complaints that you and your staff may encounter are:
1. Clients feel like they are being treated like a burden or just a job. Home care clients are looking for companionship as much as they need to be cared for.
2. The care staff is frequently late or leaves before their shift is over. In some cases, they may not show up at all. Enforce accountability.
3. Significant age gap between caregiver and client can lead to miscommunication and misunderstandings. Ensure that your nurses understand how to interact with their patients properly and professionally.
4. Caregivers that do not know how to cook even basic meals. Many home care clients are unable to cook for themselves and would like to have a caregiver that can at least make eggs or a sandwich for them.
5. Staffing shortages make it so that caregivers are unavailable at the times that they are needed most. Ensure that you have enough caregivers to take care of all of your clients at the times that they need care,
6. Different caregivers are assigned for each shift. Clients want to be able to get to know their caregivers and want to know what to expect with their care. When possible, try to schedule the same caregiver for a client or use the same substitute when the primary caregiver is unavailable.
7. The client’s care plan doesn’t match the caregiver’s skills. There is nothing more frustrating for a client than being paired with someone that can’t properly care for them. If your client needs help getting in and out of bed, ensure that the caregiver is strong enough to lift them.
8. Office staff is difficult to reach via phone call. Most clients aren’t going to be comfortable emailing, texting, or using a chatbot to address their concerns. There should always be someone answering phone calls and responding to voicemails.
Train Support Staff to Follow-Up On Care
Although your nurses will be the primary point of contact between you and your clients, it is important that they are not the only person interacting with them. Train case managers, directors, and administrators to follow up periodically with patients and their families.
Ensure that these staff members ask how the patient feels that they are being treated, if they have any specific questions or concerns that need to be addressed, and if there is anything that they would like to change about their care.
By having support staff, particularly higher-up staff and administrators follow up and check in on patients once a month, you will build trust with them. It lets them know that you are taking their concerns seriously and that they are being heard and cared about.
This system also helps to keep everyone accountable, helps to measure patient satisfaction, to solve small problems before they have a chance to turn into larger ones, and provides the opportunity to improve processes that aren’t as efficient as they could be.
Meet The Patients’ Special and Individualized Needs
While it can seem easier to try to create one standardized plan of care for all of your home health patients, that will only create more work in the long run. Each client is unique and it is important to take that into consideration.
While nurses are well-trained in performing assessments and should be observant enough to recognize when a client needs something that isn’t being provided, it may not be as clear to other support staff.
It is important to train your support staff to recognize when a client may be uncomfortable or in need of something, particularly because they may be reluctant to ask for additional help. Some questions that should be asked and considered include:
- Does the client have all of the assistive devices that they require?
- Is the client capable of making their own food or do they need assistance at meal times or making snacks?
- Does the client feel safe in their current environment? If not, what concerns need to be addressed?
- Are there any visible safety concerns in the house? For example, are there exposed cords that could be tripped over or steps that are difficult to climb?
- How is the client feeling mentally, physically, and emotionally? Are they lonely?
If no immediate concerns can be identified by support staff, it is still a good practice to ask the family and the client directly if they have any specific concerns or needs that their caregiver needs to be aware of.
Take the Time to Get to Know Your Patients
It is important that your caregivers are able to spend time with their patients to get to know them and to improve the quality of care that they are able to give to them. Try to ensure that your caregivers have enough time between their appointments so that they do not feel overwhelmed or rushed.
It can also be beneficial to pay your caregivers by the amount of time that they spend with their patients rather than on a per-visit basis. Per visit pay schedules only encourage caregivers to rush from appointment to appointment to try to fit more visits into their daily schedule.
This severely impacts the quality of care that they are providing to each of their patients which impacts their quality of life. Neglecting the emotional and mental needs of your patients and only fulfilling their physical needs is a surefire way to bring negative reviews and publicity to your agency.
Understand That the Needs of Your Patients Frequently Change
While an initial assessment is essential to better understand the unique needs of your patient, it is also important to have regular meetings with your clients. By meeting with them at least once a month, you will be able to anticipate their changing needs and fix any concerns that they may have in a timely manner.
If you do not frequently have these meetings with the client or their family, then you are likely not providing them with the best care possible.
Promote a Culture of Safety
The safety of both clients and staff should be your top priority at all times. There is no reason for anyone to ever be put into a dangerous situation as the result of another person’s negligence.
Safety begins by creating a safety culture within your organization. Although monitoring and paying attention to the little details is also important, true safety thinking requires looking at the big picture and considering all of the things that could be potential hazards in the future so that they can be prevented.
For Care Staff and Providers
Most nurses and clinical staff have gone through safety training before, but it never hurts to have a refresher course once a year. Ultimately, it is up to your staff to ensure that they are following all safety protocols and procedures completely to protect themselves and others.
The main way that administrators can help improve safety in the workplace is by ensuring that nurses and support staff are not overbooked and rushed throughout their day. Schedule them with enough time between appointments so that they can take their time and do things correctly.
Patients, or clients, face a number of unique hazards in their homes as a result of their fragile condition. It is the duty of the caregiver and the responsibility of the agency to ensure that these potential hazards are considered and accounted for. Some things to consider are:
1. Environmental hazards – steps, unmanaged cords, lack of proper heating, cooling, or ventilation, etc.
2. Infection control and sanitation – Ensure that if your patient is at risk of developing bed sores, has open wounds, or any other potential source of infection that the site is cleaned and rebandaged regularly.
3. Issues that arise from miscommunication – Ensure that backup caregivers are in place in case of emergency callouts or if the family suddenly needs additional assistance.
4. Lack of training and education – If the client’s family is not properly trained on how to care for the client when a caregiver is not present, they could exacerbate the client’s condition or cause unintentional harm to the client.
5. Lack of continuous health monitoring – For clients with more severe medical conditions, continuous monitoring should be put into place with an emergency alert system.
At the beginning of each client’s care, when their care plan is being established, a licensed clinician should help perform the initial assessment to determine if any of the above issues need to be addressed. This assessment should be re-performed on a regular basis to ensure that nothing has changed.
Offer Team-Based Care Coordination
With the widespread availability of technology in the healthcare industry there is no excuse for using outdated and inefficient manual methods to collect data and manage care. There are a few things to consider when choosing your software.
Your agency should be utilizing an integrated scheduling system that tracks time off, PTO, and vacation time, and that has built-in backups in place for unscheduled callouts. This not only saves time and manpower but also provides a seamless care system to ensure that none of your clients are ever left without a caregiver.
Similarly, there should be at least two nurses, two aides, and an administrator connected to each client’s information. This ensures that there is always someone who knows the care status of the client and also provides multiple avenues that the client’s family can go through for assistance, information, and care updates.
Finally, the system that you use should be capable of collecting, storing, and organizing data so that it is easily accessible and understandable. This system must also be extremely secure and must follow all HIPPA and government regulations to ensure the protection of sensitive patient information.
Evaluate and Use the Data You Collect
Your agency should use the data that it collects to increase client satisfaction by creating more client-centric strategies. It can also be useful to see how employees are performing, how clients view them, and what can be improved.
This kind of data collection can also highlight areas in the care experience that can be improved through employee training.
Be Flexible When it Comes to Client Care
Cookie-cutter approaches don’t work when it comes to home health care. Each client is unique and will have their own needs, wants, and desires in addition to the care that they receive for their health conditions.
Even among health conditions, no two patients will have the exact same level of dependence or care requirements. These care requirements can frequently change throughout their time as a client as well – some may get healthier and become more independent while others require more assistance as time goes on.
An additional thing to consider is that the needs of the client’s family may change as time goes on as well. Whether they are able to take on more responsibility for their loved one’s care or if they suddenly have to step away from a caregiver role and need more support, your agency must be able and ready to help.
Having systems and practices in place ahead of time to anticipate clients changing needs is essential to successfully running a thriving home care agency.
There are few things more empowering than knowledge. Work with your partnered providers to ensure that they are thoroughly educating their patients about their conditions, treatment options, therapies, and medications.
The better that clients understand their health, the more likely they are to take steps to maintain and improve it. Encourage healthcare providers to offer advice and steps, both big and small, that the client can take to better manage their health.
This approach can also help to improve the emotional and mental well-being of clients as they will be able to take a more active role in their own care.
Additionally, if a client is upset with some aspect of their care and it is not a situation that can be changed due to safety or regulatory reasons, explain that to the client. Taking the time to educate your client as to why some things cannot be done differently will be more effective and beneficial for both sides rather than ignoring their concerns.
Advocate For Your Clients
Beyond ensuring that your clients are educated in their care, it is also important to advocate for those who cannot advocate for themselves. Listen to their needs and understand their wants when it comes to their care and treatment options so that you can ensure that they are properly informed.
By taking the time to get to know your clients by listening to their concerns and connecting and empathizing with them, you will be able to earn their trust. This encourages the clients to be more likely to listen to their caregivers’ recommendations and will help them feel like they are being properly cared for and that their opinions and preferences matter.
It is also important to train your caregivers and support staff to recognize when clients are unhappy with their care, the staff, the agency, or anything else. Listen to your client’s concerns, apologize when applicable, and take the necessary steps to ensure that their concerns are taken care of.
Advocating for and educating your clients on their options will help your home care agency stand out from the competition, and it will improve your reputation among both existing and potential clients.