Smartphones help to improve the patient experience at home

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VHARecently, many home care organizations have jumped on to the mobile information highway as a way of connecting workers out in the community with their administrative support staff back in the office. While improved connectivity and instant access to visit information/confirmation are definite pluses, for VHA Home HealthCare—a not-for-profit agency that admits over 85,000 home and community care “clients” (a term often used in community health instead of “patients”)  annually—significant improvements to the personal support patient experience were an even more valuable offshoot.

“The introduction of mobile  technology,” says VHA CEO and President, Carol Annett, “aligns perfectly with our strategic priorities of being more attuned to client needs, more connected both internally and with our partners, and by providing more inspired solutions, which is really about our short and long-term goal to invest in valuable client-centred technology.”

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The interface was thoughtfully designed, tested and adjusted and includes a section for Personal Support Workers (PSWs) to add client preferences. “VHA’s PSWs are quick to add insights to this section,” says Joy Klopp, director of contracts, quality and risk management. “Notes like , ‘client likes to take a walk after dinner,’ or ‘client prefers to a warm glass of milk before bed’ are inputted so that, if the regular worker is not there, or there is a new PSW coming on board, they already know coming in what’s most important. These may seem like small details, but evidence suggests these ‘little things’ can have a significant impact on the client experience,” she adds.

The organization began piloting MobilityPlus—the name of the project which capitalizes on the BlackBerry 10 platform and is supported by Telus and GoldCare—in 2013 and completed its rollout in 2014. Currently, there are over 1,100 workers on Mobility Plus at VHA , a majority of whom are Personal Support Workers. A smaller number of shift nurses are also using the smartphones and application to support care in the community.

“We’ve spent a lot of time studying the impact of the introduction of Mobility Plus,” notes Chief Financial Officer and Vice President of Operations Support, Jennifer Blum. “Missed visits have been slashed by 50 per cent, while we’ve reduced unconfirmed visits (where PSWs fail to “check in” with the office to show they’ve arrived at a client’s home) by an astounding 85 per cent. At the end of the day improved flow of information all around—between client and PSW and the PSW and the office—lets us remain more focused on the quality of care we’re providing and spend less time on administration. It’s a win-win all around.” She adds that the instant access to the office via BlackBerry means staff can instantly send client requests or a schedule change on the spot. They can also call clients to let them know if they’re running late because of heavy traffic or a transit shutdown. “It really empowers our employees to make a difference,” says Blum.

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At first, many PSWs were wary of the idea of using smartphones. Previous surveying of the workforce showed only about 50 per cent of workers were comfortable using the internet. But comprehensive training, the intuitive nature of mobile technology and enhanced communication have converted even the most skeptical of PSWs. VHA PSW Nahida Mohamed says, “It’s the best decision the company has made to communicate!”

Felister Mburu, a PSW coach for the organization notes, “MobilityPlus improves the quality of care I’m able to give and makes the old way seem old-fashioned. You don’t have to keep calling the office for addresses or messages or ask someone to speak slower because you can’t understand them. When you’re driving, GPS takes you where you want. There’s no confusion – you have the apartment, the entry code, the street, the client, you have everything you want. I love it!”

While the project was challenging, the insights and information gathered during the implementation process will undoubtedly help VHA as it continues to roll out of other point-of-care technology in the community including a wound-care management system for its nurses and charting solutions for VHA’s rehabilitation service providers. “Though each application is different,” adds Blum, “they all share the common goal of improving care. And ultimately that has a huge impact on the client experience.”