Wireless solutions improve efficiency of home care providers

From Canadian Healthcare Technology, March 2010 issueCanadian Healthcare Technology - March 2010

By Paul Brent

Download the article here.

While electronic systems hold the tantalizing promise of a paperless workplace, health-care providers continue to fight old-fashioned paper blizzards and the problems that surround them. A desire to dig out from under just such a whiteout prompted the Greater Vancouver Community Service Society to seek a better way.

The non-profit group found its answer in a BlackBerry-based point-of-care application for its network of 300 community health workers, nurses and supervisors. The group, which provides services to 1,400 clients annually, learned of the CellTrak system in a presentation by Victoria-based Procura, a homecare solutions developer and long-time partner with CellTrak Technologies Inc., of Phoenix. CellTrak is available in Canada as Telus MobileCare.

“For us, because we are a non-profit, cost was a major factor,” said Diana Hill, director of the home support program. The organization just went live with the system at the start of February, and it expects to realize major savings by abandoning an error-prone paper and pen reporting system.

“The other thing was, twice a month, we were receiving 4,000 time sheets,” which meant 10 days a month of work for a member of Greater Vancouver’s finance team, and some supervisory time.

Now, using the CellTrak solution, which relies on secure BlackBerry devices, supervisors use Procura’s clinical management system to send patient-visit schedules directly to the mobiles of their health-care workers and nurses. They can even geographically optimize their daily patient visits and routes.
Because the BlackBerry units can be tracked by GPS, they provide more security for often-isolated workers, an issue that has been highlight by B.C.’s adoption of “Work Alone” legislation. “It added a bit of safety and security to the scheduling system that is a real benefit to us,” said Ron McLeod, the organization’s executive director.

The home care provider recently finished training for its field staff and plans further training for only a small minority. Ms. Hill noted that younger workers who are most familiar with cell phones and text messages mastered the system faster than older, less tech savvy employees. “It is a very simple system to use, it is very repetitive, so it is just a matter of them building up their confidence to be able to use it regularly. It’s not difficult,” she said.

Procura president Warren Brown said acceptance of the mobile solution has taken off in the past three years as healthcare chief executives began to understand the advantages of the system and initial worker resistance to a new system was surmounted.

Initial attempts to use cell phones as point-of-care devices “were pretty clunky and didn’t deliver a lot of value,” he said. “Really, the big push has been in the last year. Home care providers needed something with really timely information around the logistics – such as, where am I going and what does my schedule look like?”, as well as richer clinical information, said Brown.

Information flows both ways, so not only does CellTrak make workflow better for home care workers, but it also allows managers to remotely confirm that visits actually took place, to check the duration of visits and remotely add visits “on the fly” by sending a new client’s information to a healthcare worker’s BlackBerry in the field.

In the case of no coverage cellular “dead zones,” a worker’s device will retain the information sent to it up to the time of lost coverage, but updates or new assignments will not be received until the work-er is back in cellular coverage.

In the end,  speed is as much a critical component of the CellTrak solution as is the paperless efficiency and other benefits.“Our business lives on the ability to make frequent changes to schedules, changes to care plans, changes to medications,” said Brown.

“So it wasn’t just the accuracy of the information, it was our capability to get new information to people, and to get it there quickly.”

The CellTrak mobile healthcare solution was just this fall selected by home healthcare giant We Care Home Health Services to provide automated time and attendance tracking for staff after a lengthy pilot program.

We Care said it selected CellTrak over a rival provider based on ease of use, service reliability and customer support provided during the pilot. Other benefits noted by We Care were reduced paperwork, automated scheduling and better communication among its care teams.

“Time and attendance is 100 percent accurate now,” said Scott Herrmann, senior vice-president of sales at CellTrak. “There is productivity in knowing exactly how long staff are at visits, when they arrive, when they are late.” Automatic alerts can also be set by managers for such things as late arrivals, staying too long at a visit or not staying long enough or when a visit is missed.

The GPS function solves the biggest issue in the industry, he said. “The entire home care industry is assuming people are on the job.”

The handheld devices are also used to email vacation and time requests and late arrival notifications on the part of staff, “so they have improved their communications by using their email system,” said Herrmann. The mobile homecare solution also results in fewer billing errors, “because the time in, the time out and what occurred in the visit is all automated and pushed to Procura from the point-of-care in real time,” he said. “If you have fewer billing errors, you have fewer lost clients.”

 

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