Across the United States, 15 percent of residents are over the age of 65 -- and by 2060, it’s expected that one in four Americans will be in the retirement zone. This aging society presents challenges and opportunities across a wide swath of industries and sectors.
It’s hard to imagine a market more invested in this population than home care, where demand is surging, and agencies strategize on staying competitive and capitalizing on this moment in time. One clear factor is having the right teams in place to keep the business moving into the future.
Clearly, jobs that cater to seniors will rise in step with that population -- but the flip side is that recruiting and retaining qualified caregivers will become ever more challenging. This reality is already a prime issue affecting the global home care industry; indeed, it’s no surprise to anyone in this business that, when it comes to skilled staff members who provide care, supply is consistently slipping below demand.
The facts: baby boomers need care and residence. That need is escalating fast. In 2016, for the first time, the number of adults over 65 eclipsed children under 14 in North America.
The key issue of course is that demand is outpacing available care workers, new graduates in the industry, and immigrants who are experienced in this field.
While all of us in the industry saw this coming from miles away, the impact on business is becoming increasingly clear, as are the keys to dealing with this challenge. Each agency’s reputation is mostly governed by its ability to maintain levels of care -- so now is the time to focus on curbing employee churn.
Employee churn: a triple-edged sword
Employee churn is a triple-edged sword. One: staff shortages force an agency to turn away potential new clients. Two: it raises the risk of missed visits, making existing clients unhappy and forcing the scheduling staff to scramble at the last-minute. Three: churn creates a continuity gap in care, which unsettles clients who become familiar and comfortable with the same staff coming into their homes. The end result is poorer client outcomes.
Workforce stability is vital to business. Studies have shown that having at least 70 percent full-time employed nurses fosters continuity of care among many other benefits: reduced costs, better teamwork, and happier and more engaged staff. Under 70 percent, and the quality of client care can take a hit.
Job satisfaction is vital to recruiting and retaining top talent and making churn a non-issue. And that’s not easy to do for what are challenging, demanding and often difficult jobs as front-of-line care staff. Workers who feel that they aren’t getting the hours they want, at the locations they want, and with the compensation they seek, will naturally keep their eyes open for other employment opportunities -- or leave the industry entirely. The issue of caregiver burnout is a factor here as well.
But for agencies, meeting the needs of employees in a complex, shifting environment while managing multidisciplinary care plans, multiple visit requirements, moving clients from the hospital to their home, the list goes on…consistency seems almost improbable.
Curbing the churn with modern tech solutions
This is where technology makes the improbable probable. A modern operation with mobile technology and smart software can go a long way in relieving caregivers of the many inefficiencies that can contribute to burnout and eventual departure.
In fact, in a 2016 report from the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), surveys clearly show that caregivers will embrace technology if it is seamless and integrated into their daily tasks. Frankly, we’ve seen evidence of this willingness to embrace new tech with our clients every passing quarter.
That seamless integration, with today’s advanced home care software, is entirely possible. Our data shows that a workforce optimization solution will yield a 10-20 percent increase in caregiver utilization, 33.5 percent reduction in weekly travel time, 35 percent reduction in scheduling time and a 15 percent reduction in recruitment costs.
Here’s a deeper dive into how to give your skilled staff the support they need, mitigate the challenges they face every day, and tackle churn head on.
There’s no question that better schedules are correlated to satisfied staff, yet an ongoing issue in our industry is poor scheduling that not only requires coordinators to remember client and staff preferences, but ensure they’re all taken into account on an ongoing basis. Technology takes a giant leap forward here, ushering in accuracy and real-time information: an atmosphere that makes the lives of nurses and PSWs -- and the lives of back-office staff -- easier.
One factor that makes it difficult to provide care worker continuity in the home care industry are the physical locations of each client’s home. Whether in rural counties or urban, travel time and visit locations can quickly become obstacles in a care worker’s schedule -- thus impacting employee satisfaction and retention.
Key here is to utilize technology that incorporates maps and optimized visit routes to ensure schedules are convenient and efficient for both employees and clients-- like this. When matching an employee to a client, accurate travel time distance metrics can be calculated before that care worker is selected. Machine learning puts the right person in the right place at the right time -- enabling a balanced and physically possible schedule.
The right technology can also create a functional profile of each worker so their schedules can be matched to their preferences. It can incorporate daily, weekly and payroll minimum and maximum hours, as well as detail how skills and interests match up with individual client needs (for example, a registered nurse’s time is better spent administering medications than folding laundry.) Skills-matching is also invaluable for certain clients who have very specific needs, as are “do not send” lists for staff and clients whose personalities or other attributes simply do not connect for various reasons. The ability to make their own hours is also an invaluable and empowering tool for staff.
Seamless client visits
Clearly, employee-client compatibility is important to an agency for many reasons. Ensuring seamless and effective client visits begins with a back-office coordinator filtering employees based on previous experience with the patient, required skills and qualifications, employee availability, and many other qualities.
In fact, care worker continuity can be expressed as a percentage right up-front -- helping ensure each client is paired with the field staff who know and understand their care plans. For a hypothetical example: Ethel’s primary caregiver is a 95% match with nurse Norma because of Norma’s specialized training with Alzheimer’s patients -- not to mention, they both love cats and playing gin rummy. PSW Viola is Ethel’s secondary caregiver with a 75% match when Norma is unavailable. Ethel is most comfortable with Norma but Viola still possesses the skill set needed to fill in when needed. This level of visibility means that if Norma isn’t available, Viola with the next highest continuity percentage can still have full visibility into the care plan history in order to ensure she can adequately provide care according to Ethel’s wants, needs, preferences and clinical status.
Effective software can also create a complete audit trail of care worker activities, as well as rich-media enabled documentation, enabling the substitute care worker to prepare for the visit and have a complete understanding of the client and their condition before they arrive.
That understanding, even subtle details about a client, is vital to overcoming employee churn. Software features like real-time alerts and risks visibility provides staff with critical information about a client -- a pre-visit briefing that puts them in charge, eliminating the discomfort of heading into a client’s home uninformed, or being at the mercy of a coordinator back at the office to call them with an update before a visit.
Skilled workers rely on preparation to be efficient, and to enjoy their client visits. This is clearly important in terms of that person’s care plan or health history, but also extends well beyond that. One worker I spoke to recently told me she loved reading client notes and knowing the risks beforehand. She said several her clients have particular preferences and sensitivities -- one can’t stand the smell of perfume; another client dislikes small talk. Insight into a client’s personality makes each visit go smoothly. Meanwhile, it’s helpful for that worker to know if the client has an unkempt home environment, or a dog that gets riled up if the doorbell rings.
Create a better employee experience
Ultimately, this article is about one thing: creating the best possible employee experience in order to reduce churn. While route and schedule optimization and client visibility are important and timely topics, technology offers many other benefits, including subtle ones, that keep care worker morale high, including:
- Saying goodbye to paper: GPS-based mobile care management systems streamline patient care, electronic visit verification and record keeping and rid busy professionals of tedious work such as completing time sheets.
- Achieving full transparency: Mobile software has the built-in ability to allow for real-time communication between caregivers and office staff, accurate and rapid data collection and reporting, and brings a level of transparency that builds trust between caregiver and agency.
- Offering the little things: If your staff are happy, have the right tools and the right information at their fingertips, they are less likely to leave. Mobile apps that are user-friendly, handy visit timers that are useful for short term visits -- small features like these can equal big satisfaction, and the retention of top talent.
Forecasting the Future
The right technology can help prevent churn before an employee even entertains their departure -- and can predict hiring needs before employees join an organization too. While this type of insight is only beginning to emerge, the picture is becoming clearer.
What if you knew, based on data, that in the next two months you will need one mental health worker in Port St. Lucie whose shifts will fall on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays? Or that three new PSWs will be needed to support the Tampa area? Predictive technology is the way of the future and it will enable home care agencies to hire proactively.
Technology also has the power to predict employee churn by identifying the specific factors -- the indicators -- that are linked to decisions by employees to leave. When large amounts of data can be studied by a software company with dozens of clients, machine learning can offer such predictions. How would your operations change, for instance, if you knew that in the next six months 10 skilled staff are likely to leave? It will soon be commonplace to use data to decode attrition rates, and map these patterns to the future.
Overall, the best remedy for employee churn is to predict it -- and prevent it -- in the first place. The technology to address many of the issues currently faced by home care agencies is already here, with new advancements coming online every year to help provide even more insight into the pressing issue of attracting and retaining top talent. With so much at stake, agencies would do well to keep an eye on which software companies are leading the way in this highly valuable area.