The average professional spends 28% of the work day reading and answering email, according to a McKinsey analysis. That amounts to 2.6 hours spent and 120 messages received per day for the average full-time worker in America.
Add in the fact that up to 75% of email these days comprises spam, junk and advertisements, it’s no wonder that many workers today say email is dead, or at the very least, passé, says Bruce Weintraub, CEO of HealthSignals LLC, which designs, deploys and manages medical grade Wi-Fi platforms for long-term care communities.
“Where managers used to have face-to-face meetings with staff to issue instructions and gather feedback, email took over in order to be ‘more efficient,” he says. “But these days, that efficiency is gone, and many important messages get lost in the tsunami of emails received.”
In addition, traditional forms of communication such as email are really designed for employees sitting at a desk and looking at a screen all day, so they often fall short for always-on-the-go workers in senior care communities, says Derek Holt, president and chief operating officer of K4Connect, which provides smart technology solutions for senior living communities.
Weintruab adds that as their email inboxes have become overrun, many managers have now moved to text messaging, either via cell phones or other instant messaging platforms, sometimes infringing on employees’ personal lives, or forcing them to carry multiple devices — a personal phone and a work phone.
So what are some of the best ways for long-term care managers and staff to effectively and efficiently communicate with each other, while still respecting the importance of work-life balance? Experts share some of the best new communication technologies and software for making facilities more productive overall.
Establish your pain points
Holt notes that the first step when it comes to establishing better employee communication is figuring out what is and isn’t working within the facility. This starts, he says, by taking a holistic view of its communication problems.
“I’m not saying to go rip and replace everything all at once,” Holt says, “but you do need to have a strategic plan in terms of how you’re going to use technology to transform your community.”
Holt says K4 Connect works closely with its clients to understand the communication problems facilities are facing — be it unread emails, not receiving timely updates on projects or requests not being completed — and then work with them to build a roadmap for a future that works for everyone.
“We can’t make an isolated decision for the maintenance team’s communication and a different one for the care team and still another for the marketing team,” he says.
During any communication plan development, it’s also crucial to get a technical assessment of the facility done, to ensure the infrastructure is in place to support any new systems being considered, says Mark McIntyre, EVP and GM of CareWorx Fully Managed, a provider of technology solutions and IT support for the senior care industry.
“Digital transformation is all about finding ways to work better and smarter,” he says. “But providers also need to ensure that their IT infrastructure and Wi-Fi can support these innovative new tools.”
Greg Robertson, senior vice president and general manager with Notify, says that often long-term care facilities muddle through with technologies and systems that are disconnected from one another, leading to employees walking around the facility with a “Batman belt” of different devices — walkie-talkies, pagers and smartphones — each of which serve a different function and are connected to a different system.
Vocera Communications Director of Emerging Markets Dave Bingham agrees, adding, “It’s incredibly inconvenient for caregivers to walk around with all of these devices and also be there to take care of residents.”
To address this, Vocera, Notify and other companies have developed handheld and wearable devices designed to help long-term care staff manage all of their communication with one system.
It directly connects with anyone inside or outside the facility, offers the ability to record messages for employees to listen to at their convenience and helps caregivers respond to employee needs faster.
One of the biggest needs in terms of communication in long-term care facilities is improving workflows and streamlining processes so that employees can focus on providing care rather than administrative tasks, says Kristen Wylie, senior product marketing manager, senior living for STANLEY Healthcare.
“Successful employee communication is no longer just about sending an email or broadcast message; more importantly, it’s about offering immediate access to information,” she says.
To help with this, Weintraub points to the availability of various operations platforms — many of which offer a mobile app component — to allow specific communications to staff for task-related activities, which are then maintained in a perennial database and can be tracked by employee, task, resident and other factors.
TheWorxHub by Dude Solutions, for example, is a cloud-based software that offers senior care communities the ability to manage work orders within the platform, and entirely eliminates the need for email, says Taylor Furst, an implementation specialist with Dude Solutions.
Similarly, STANLEY Healthcare’s Arial Emergency Call and Wireless Nurse Call solution is an example of a centralized event management, notification, reporting and analytics platform that employees can use to ensure resident safety and security.
It includes a live directory displaying all caregivers and indicates those that are currently logged in and working at the facility so caregivers can easily use the app to reach out to peers for assistance, Wylie says.
“Need a wheelchair brought to you? Need help with a resident? Connecting staff with this kind of anytime, anywhere access to information and collaboration helps to empower caregivers — and helps to bring communities one step closer to an engaged workforce,” she says.
Augmenting patient care
In an effort to empower workers to take a proactive approach to patient-centered care, some technologies even integrate with local hospitals, ACOs and payers to use the available data to support optimal patient care, workflow efficiency and financial success, says Jim Shearon, vice president of clinical solutions at Real Time Medical Systems, an interventional analytics platform.
“With technology being the driver of consistent, accurate and timely information, all parties involved don’t need to wait for an email to tell them what they need to do,” he says. “Rather, they can take action based on the type of data and analytics at their fingertips.”
Gaining real-time visibility into a patient’s current health condition, location and the services being provided to each patient can also help long-term care staff improve quality of care, says Subhashree Sukhu, marketing director for CarePredict, a senior health care monitoring company.
The company’s wearable device, Tempo, includes sensors that track a variety of the wearer’s activities of daily living and provides two-way voice communication between residents and caregiving staff.
“This allows caregivers to triage alerts and coordinate amongst each other instantly on who will be assisting the resident,” he says.
A productive work environment relies on strong communications, and technology can help managers improve their communications with employees from the very beginning, says Tommy Marzella, marketing manager with OnShift, a long-term care and senior living workforce management software.
For example, software platforms that leverage artificial intelligence and automated texting can make the hiring process efficient and effective, replacing the outdated process of calling applicants and sending emails and waiting for a response. Or using even long-lasting, more ponderous methods.
Once an employee starts, technology also can help managers stay in touch with new hires — perhaps even reducing turnover and improving employee communication, Marzella says.
“Given that senior care is a 24-7, often chaotic operation, it can be hard for managers to connect with their staff as much as they’d like, especially with third-shift employees,” he says. “While technology is never a replacement for face-to-face conversation, it can be used to enhance communications and fill gaps.”
Automated pulse surveys, for example, can allow employees to quickly indicate how they feel that their shift went and offer feedback, he says.
Technology also is improving the way facilities divvy up shifts among independent contractors, says John Nyhart, vice president at the healthcare scheduling and credential management platform shiftkey.
In the past, for example, facility administrators would need to contact various nurse staffing agencies by email or phone and wait for a return call or email, Nyhart says. Shiftkey allows administrators to post notices of available shifts, which are then sent out to the entire PRN pool in the immediate region.
Nyhart notes one of the software’s biggest benefits is its around-the-clock, everyday capability.
“When a nurse gets off a shift at 2 a.m., she can log on and see what shifts might next be available and put in a request before heading to bed,” he says. “When you have a system that gets things done when you’re asleep or not at the office, that’s key to being more productive.”