How to Streamline Staff Communications to Improve Care Continuity

June 7, 2022

Modern technology and software solutions have penetrated almost every industry with tools to improve communication and efficiency, and yet senior living has been ignored. Legacy solutions and poor communication tools lead to undesirable outcomes and safety risks for older adults.

Communication is a critical element of a resident’s care cycle. It offers valuable insights into medical history, the type of care a resident needs, and changes in health, and it can also increase family involvement and satisfaction. For care staff, enabling real-time communication and documentation with better tools can help prevent burnout while providing management with key information about what’s happening with their facility and each resident.

Identify Communication Stumbling Blocks That Prevent Care Continuity

Internal communication within a senior living facility needs to be solid to build a strong connection between the care team, residents, and their families and to provide consistent care. In order to streamline and improve all channels of communication, it’s important to first understand the communication challenges that occur within a facility.

In many facilities, there are several ways to communicate information: documentation, phone calls, emails, or reporting to a supervisor. When it comes to identifying where gaps are occurring, leadership needs to be open to assessing current processes, tools, and areas that may be contributing to the communication breakdown. There are three common areas that can contribute to a communication breakdown:

1. Conventional Reporting and Paper Charts

For the last 41 years, documenting, tracking, and communicating resident health information and care has been a disjointed method that includes paper documentation, sticky notes, whiteboards, and EHR systems for clinical data. With rudimentary organization, there is a level of unreliability and inconsistency. Clinical information is collected in one place, while daily care information might live somewhere else. Inevitably, the caregivers miss information or updates because of lack of centralized communication.

Depending on the frequency of care plan reviews, often every 6 months, there may have been significant changes to a resident’s health before care managers update it. By that point, the care plan may no longer be relevant for their current state of health and needs. This is an important factor because most care managers might oversee the care of up to 200 residents each month.

2. Environmental Factors and Time Constraints

It is nearly impossible to rely on care staff reporting to know exactly what may occur during a shift or even day to day. The staff members may be sick and unable to work their scheduled shift, leaving the team shorthanded or with someone new on the floor. An emergency may arise with a resident that takes time and coordination with several care team members. Care teams can have plans for certain incidents, but the resolution time can vary greatly, impacting the ability to record or document information.

Caregivers are often rushed to answer alerts, perform their daily duties, assist residents with grooming and toileting activities, and find time to document and fill out reports accurately. In many cases, they may forget details or postpone charting, which impacts the care residents receive, whether that is during the next shift or in the months to come.

3. Institutional Communication Barriers

The standard institutional communication approach within senior care facilities is reporting all information through the chain of command or documenting it for later review. The processes established for this type of communication can cause delays and promote a culture of “see something, say nothing or else face the consequences” that stifles staff from speaking up.

Without a democratized approach to communication, staff members are left to leave their duties and seek out the right person with whom to communicate. Even when they find them, they may not be immediately available. They often have to leave a paper note that could end up lost or overlooked.

It becomes a game of telephone; a CNA reports a change in a resident’s behavior to their Medtech, who reports to their supervisor. The information being communicated continues through the chain, becoming delayed or even lost, leading to the second issue of not reviewing documentation promptly. Other institutional communication barriers are inadequate training, verbal abuse, fatigue, heavy workloads, and ambiguous instructions.

Use a Centralized Tool to Improve Continuity of Care

Many care team members do not have access to email, or the luxury of  constantly checking it throughout their shift. Members of the care team may need to send messages and communicate crucial information in seconds. Using a centralized application on mobile devices allows two-way interaction, and group communication enhances resident care and safety while promoting a healthy work environment that encourages collaboration.

In an emergency or when an issue necessitates escalation, having rapid access to messages and resident records is critical. It is important to use a HIPAA-compliant app, like Sage, that allows direct messaging and team communication, access to resident information, and the ability to write reports to update resident records.

Establishing a clear and direct channel for communication among care teams and leadership promotes visibility into the individual care provided to residents. For administration, having predefined communication channels allows you to share the top-down vision for improving residents’ processes and levels of care. When it comes to communication at the internal level for care teams, there needs to be a clear definition of who makes up the care team for each resident, their role, and when to contact them for assistance, ask questions, or escalate an issue.

Embrace Real-Time Democratized Communication

Increased collaboration and communication improve care and resident safety; senior living leadership should invest in providing real-time democratized communication for care teams. Effective communication is an important piece of the puzzle when it comes to providing care. Providing software to ease communication barriers helps promote the value of cooperation and build the trusting relationship that supports it. The care team needs to build trust with residents and their families.

It is important to build the skills necessary to apply effective communication practices. These practices are applicable, but not limited to, several areas such as charting, filing reports, two-way communication internally, resident transfers, creating daily tasks to assist residents, or communicating with family members. When staff believes they are being heard, they are more motivated. Promoting open two-way communication reaffirms caregivers’ worth within the facility by showing how leadership values and respects their perspectives or experiences. They are also more confident in communicating with people when they know their worth.

Better Documentation Creates Visibility

Using a single communication platform that all care team members may use directly on a mobile device helps them expedite communication and submit incident reports that other care team members can access. A shared real-time communication tool enables care continuity by allowing teams to file reports and update resident care documents instantly to alleviate any confusion.

The capacity of members of the care team to effectively communicate and guarantee continuity of care are hampered by their continued dependence on paper documentation, expanding files, and word of mouth. With Sage, members of the care team can quickly identify with a green dot which team member is online/available to call or message instantly. This feature is helpful when triaging an emergency or escalating an alert.

By Using Sage, Care Teams Can Build Trust Through Effective Communication

Poor communication and barriers can be detrimental to care teams, impacting the trust built with residents and their loved ones. Sage enables care leadership to provide better support to care teams and promote a work environment centered around visibility and continuity of care for residents. With efficient, secure technology, staff are more confident in their work efforts and can spend more time supporting the aging adults in their care.

Schedule a demo to see the Sage difference in action and understand how Sage can assist in streamlining how your staff communicates.