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Making Technology Work

January 1, 2010
by Ron Herbert
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Lessons learned at Triad Senior Living

Managing a profitable long-term care business is not for the faint of heart. Other industries have been relying on technology to help them reach their business goals. As a for-profit owner who operates 10 buildings, Triad Senior Living has made some effective technology investments over the past several quarters, including AccuNurse® voice-assisted care, PCs for the buildings as well as wireless networks throughout the buildings, and we've learned a tremendous amount about how to be successful in the process.

Our recent technology investments have helped us:

  • Achieve significant improvements in Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements across our homes

  • Perform better on state surveys by easily proving compliance

  • Provide better care at lower costs

We've learned that technology can quickly help us pave the way to a stronger, more profitable business. Sharing our lessons learned will help other owners avoid the mistakes we've made and be more successful in their technology investment, faster-and with the right results.

Three keys

Being successful with technology requires careful consideration of three things that have little to do with technology:

  • People: Making sure your people are onboard is absolutely critical

  • Processes: Think about how you do things now and how to improve

  • Change management: Anything new requires attention to the psychology of change

Considering these three factors before you begin a technology-focused project will significantly reduce the time and effort required to both select and implement the right technology to improve your business and generate the returns you expect.

People make technology work

Success with technology is about people; not about technology. It is people who use technology-technology doesn't use people. You need to ensure your people understand the problem you're trying to solve, your vision for solving it, and the role they'll play in helping to realize that vision.

The first place to start is with leadership. Get them on board by helping them understand your vision and what that means to them, then paint the dream of what things will be like once technology becomes part of how they do their jobs. Here are lessons learned:

  • Align technology with your mission, vision, and values. Technology must be synchronized with your core business goals.

  • Leaders must commit. No project goes perfectly and staff will look to leaders for clues on how to react.

  • Recognize success, reward, and repeat. Reinforce good examples that team members make.

Pick a project sponsor

One of the lead roles in keeping your teams focused is the project sponsor. The project sponsor is the person who ultimately is held accountable by the highest level of management for the successful implementation of technology.

The project sponsor has the authority to assign resources, authorize overtime or temporary staff, and make decisions that are beyond the realm of the director of nursing. Typically, this is the executive director, administrator, or a senior member of the nursing staff who the care team respects.

Remember, technology should support good processes-not offset bad ones. Anytime you consider adding technology to how you deliver care or operate your home, take a step back and look at the workflow and processes you need to support. There is often a “disconnect” between the workflow and processes that a care staff is performing and the technology brought in to improve things.

When managed incorrectly, staff becomes quickly dissatisfied, so effective adoption and incorporation of technology into how they do their jobs is significantly hampered leading to increased project costs and an increase in the time to value for the investment. Here are the objectives we had for the recent AccuNurse technology project:

  • Improve accuracy of the care we're delivering and the documentation required to demonstrate compliance.

  • Improve care staff efficiency.

  • Reduce the information gap between when care was delivered and when it was documented and available for reporting.

  • Increase care staff job satisfaction.

  • Build pictures of how you do the job now and how you can do it better. We looked at tasks we were performing and documented them. We examined where we had the opportunity to improve in key areas that would yield efficiencies. We produced basic flow charts of key processes to map where we were and where wanted to be by project end.

In just a couple of days, we were able to provide streamlined clinical workflow processes that could be automated. The immediate result was we gained staff satisfaction early in the project, and this translated to more satisfied residents and families.

Change management

Another roadblock to implementing technology comes from leaving comfortable things behind, compounded with the challenge of learning something new. Here are four steps we took to overcome this hurdle:

  1. Communicate-The first step was to communicate our vision, approach, and what we needed to accomplish to our core care staff. This helped them understand what we were doing and why it was good for them. We encouraged everyone to share perspectives and ask questions.

  2. Demonstrate-We chose “champions” on every shift to be the point people for best practices, training, and concerns, and the go-to people for the technology developer regarding new features, materials, bulletins, and feedback.

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