Daily life has changed for all of because of COVID-19, none more so than those in senior care. Staff, residents and their families have had to continuously adapt. So how are they managing their new normal? How are they staying connected and informed, and what role has technology played throughout? We spoke with Robin Saunders, Director, Information Management & Technology & CIO at Providence Care to learn more.
Tell us a little about yourself. What is your role within the Providence Care organization?
As the Chief Information Officer, I am responsible for data management within the organization as well as the Information Technology the organization requires. Providence Care is made up of a hospital, a number of community programs and a long-term care home, so I have responsibilities across all three. I also have responsibility for patient records and registration which basically means chart management across the hospital, the community, and the home.
Tell us a bit about Providence Care as a whole. How are the facilities different, and how do their needs differ?
The hospital is primarily responsible for providing outpatient and inpatient rehabilitation services, inpatient complex care services, inpatient and community mental health services. Our long-term care home has 243-beds, which is quite large for the region.
Providence Care also has services that are considered community support programs such as; an attendant care outreach program, and a Hildegard program that is a day-away program for families who care for elderly family members and who may need a break. This program allows them to leave their senior family members at the centre to receive care for the day.
What does a typical day look like at Providence, and how has that changed during COVID-19?
I spend a lot of my time thinking about what types of new technology could help our organization, as well as ensuring that the technology we do have in place is continuing to function and support the end-users.
Another aspect of my role is to look at the data within all of those electronic systems and figure out how we can use it to better support future decision making. This can range from resident care information, to resident volume information, to how many patients came to our hospital in an outpatient setting and what kind of outcome they had, and whether there are any opportunities for quality improvement in those areas.
I also deal with any issues that come up related to records as I support the Privacy Officer in any audits that need to be performed. I support the organization with the registration of patients and the patient flow, so I have a multi-faceted view of the whole Providence world. I then try to match up the data, the technology, and the people who need to use it on a day-to-day basis.
Has technology improved interactions between all the various stakeholders?
Yes. It’s been interesting now with COVID-19 and all the changes since the pandemic began. We typically rely heavily on patients’ families and their care providers to provide services for them. So especially during this time, we’ve found that technology has become absolutely essential; the ability to have a Zoom call with family members who cannot come for a visit, and to connect remotely with others is essential.
Technology has also been vital in helping us understand where Providence Care may have some problem areas. For example, we use technology to track Personal Protective Equipment; how much we have, whether or not it is coming in on time or not.
There has certainly been a shift in how we use technology to better support patients; how can we make it easier for them to connect. This also applies to the residents in the long term care home. However, there is still a long way to go. There are a lot of things we can do differently that would help to make it easier for future situations like COVID-19 to continue to have our patients and residents feel connected and supported, and to have their needs met.
Before Cliniconex, how did Providence Care manage communication with resident families, and what were the challenges?
Very, very, very manually! We were physically phoning each and every contact for a resident. For example if we had an issue on just one floor of a unit – which can have 38 to 43 beds – we would physically create a list of all the contacts. We would then have a group of people sit down at the phones and start calling them one by one, which could take hours.
When COVID-19 hit and all 243 residents had family members that needed to be communicated with, we would have needed a whole entourage of staff to come in to phone people. Our old process was time-consuming, and it was also very hard to track whether or not we had reached everyone. Did a checkmark next to a name mean we talked to a family member, or just that the number had been dialed? Was there a message left? Before Cliniconex it was very difficult to manage communications and ensure outreach happened in a timely manner.
The other piece is that our communications team who helps support those outgoing communications also supports the hospital and community programs at the same time. This can lead to competing priorities when you have to get messages out very quickly.
Why did Providence Care implement Cliniconex?
To save time and to streamline our processes, and to make sure the message was consistent. Cliniconex also allowed us to provide contact information in the event a resident family member needed to get in touch with us
Tell us about the implementation process. Was it easy to deploy?
The Cliniconex team is absolutely amazing. They made it so easy, so painless to get up and running very quickly. It saved us a ton of anxiety and concern.
It actually went so well for the long-term care home, we asked if it would be possible to implement Cliniconex for our hospital. Within two days, we could communicate with our 270 patient families. It was absolutely incredible!
How has Cliniconex impacted the Providence team? Has it affected day to day operations?
For one thing, the communications team is exceedingly grateful to have a tool where they can craft a message, press send, and it goes out to 243 people simultaneously. It’s also been very helpful in finding out whether or not we have the right contact information. I know that sounds backwards, but having an error log tell us “These four numbers don’t work”, allows us to follow up with the resident families to ensure correct contact information is in our system.
The challenge we’ve had is that some resident families would like to use different mechanisms of communication. We’ve only implemented the phone aspect of the solution, so there are definitely families who would like the text or e-mail function, so that’s work we have to do.
So the resident families have embraced the tool?
They have. Before we could even send out a communication letting resident families know we were going to start using Cliniconex, we actually had an emergency situation where we had a non-COVID-19 outbreak in one of our units. Of course, we had to immediately contact those families. We customized our message to say “This is our new method of communication. Please provide us with feedback.” The feedback we got was wonderful. Families said “Thank you so much for sending us the information so quickly.” It was also helpful that they could re-listen to the message if they wanted.
Since COVID-19, has knowing you are proactive with outreach eased the anxiety of family members?
Yes. The fact that we have an automated messaging system that allows us to communicate in a consistent manner, gives them confidence that we are going to communicate if something happens, and that they are going to know whether a call comes through from Providence.
We have not used Cliniconex as much as we would like to. We do want to send out more general messaging; but given the current circumstances under COVID-19, there just aren’t that many we can send out right now. I do believe the residents and families feel more comfortable knowing we have this tool and we can use it if we need to. It reduces the uncertainty.
So you’ve mainly been using Cliniconex as a tool in an emergency?
At this time, yes. As I mentioned, we did have an outbreak where we did start using it right away. We then used it to update families on the status of the outbreak, letting them know we had no new cases and things were returning to normal. We also sent out follow-up communications to tell people that the situation was resolved and more communication would come if another issue occurred.
We did have a resident test positive for COVID-19, but it turned out to be a false positive. We used Cliniconex for the emergency notification of families, and again with consistent follow-up messaging.
Has having Cliniconex provided some relief to staff knowing that if there is an outbreak they can focus on their residents and not on manual outreach?
Definitely. Our Activity Coordinator and her team are the ones that get pulled out of their routine during an outbreak to conduct communications outreach. So they are much happier knowing this won’t happen. Especially now when a lot of the activities the residents can do are being provided by this key team in the home. Without the Activity team, the residents would have very limited access to activities. Cliniconex has made it possible for them to continue to focus on what they need to do to care for the residents and provide distractions and keep them engaged and social.