Better Communication, Better Care: Enhancing Quality in Home Healthcare Services

Effective communication in home healthcare can have a big impact on the way clients view the quality of care they receive.  

 Clients want to remain healthy from the comfort of their homes, and that’s only possible when their caregivers and support staff are able to collaborate and communicate effectively. From personal support workers to care managers and office staff, a client can interact with numerous people throughout the day. And in this fast-paced environment, caregivers are constantly on the move from one client to the next. This can make it difficult to connect with clients and co-workers and, in turn, make or break the quality of interactions.

Quality of care and quality of work are also interconnected, and the recent home care staffing crisis in Canada has highlighted that.

Burnout as a barrier to care

The COVID-19 pandemic posed significant disruptions and changes to the way home care is accessed and delivered. It also amplified the systemic challenges the home care sector was already facing, such as:

  • Keeping up with demand. The number of people who rely on home care is expected to increase by more than 50 percent in less than a decade, according to the Canadian Medical Association (CMA).
  • Staff turnover and shortages. Approximately 25% of personal support workers who have two or more years of experience leave the sector annually. In total, home care has lost an estimated 4,000 nurses since the beginning of the pandemic.
  • Job stress or burnout is the most common reason why healthcare workers not intending to retire are considering leaving their job or changing jobs.

These interconnected factors have resulted in home healthcare providers “being deluged with calls” while lacking the staff to respond, according to a statement from Sue VanderBent, CEO of Home Care Ontario. 

As staffing shortages persist, caregivers are taking on more work, and stress, to meet demand. And when front-line staff lack energy, motivation, and time — a communication breakdown is inevitable.

Why is communication key to better outcomes?

A breakdown in communication can lead to potential errors that reduce the quality of care and can compromise both client and caregiver safety.

As a home healthcare provider, communication is critical to providing high-quality care for several reasons:

1. Building rapport and trust.

Effective communication helps you build a relationship with clients and their families to support shared-decision, making, client safety, and caregiver engagement.

2. Understanding client needs. 

Active listening is crucial for understanding and communicating patient needs, preferences, and concerns. Equally as important is a provider’s ability to respond to those needs and translate them into a customized care plan.

3. Identifying and addressing problems. 

Caregivers may be the first to notice changes in a client’s condition or behaviour. When staff are equipped with good communication skills they can help identify problems and address them promptly to prevent complications.

4. Educating clients and families.

Effective communication allows home healthcare providers to educate patients and their families about their health conditions, medications, and self-care practices, empowering them to take an active role in their care management.

5. Coordinating care.

communication must flow consistently across teams especially as plans, schedules, or conditions change throughout the day. When staff are kept informed they can collaborate and respond to change more effectively.

6. Employee engagement.

Regular internal communication can help employees feel more connected to their work, team, and managers. Through two-way dialogue, home-care employers can…

a. better understand their employees’ needs 

b. set goals and expectations

c. recognize hard work

d. provide meaningful feedback

e. Foster a culture of open communication

Ultimately, effective communication is the foundation of a supportive and collaborative work environment that promotes high-quality patient care and caregiver well-being.

What is quality communication in home healthcare?

The significance that communication plays in shaping both client and caregiver experiences is clear. So, how do we define high-quality communication in home healthcare? 

The Institute of Medicine’s quality improvement framework can be a good starting point. Below we’ve outlined how the six dimensions of care quality can be applied to home care communication:

Information is documented clearly and accurately, and then communicated to the right people through the right channels to ensure clients receive optimal care.

Information is exchanged through secure platforms and does not compromise client privacy. Caregiver-client communication should be transparent, accessible, and free of physical or psychological harm.

Communication allows clients and caregivers to express their experiences, thoughts and ideas, and makes it possible for providers to tailor communication to the person’s emotional and informational needs.

Information is available when needed and communication is not impeded by long wait times or delays. During an emergency, this means communicating rapidly what is known and unknown and providing frequent and reliable updates.

Information is communicated as quickly as possible without compromising the effectiveness of the message or wastefully using resources, time, or energy.

Information should be accurate, inclusive, and accessible to everyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or other factors. This involves providing accommodations such as language interpretation services so that all clients can communicate effectively with

How can an answering service improve home healthcare quality?

There are many practicable steps you can take internally to align communication with care and achieve the six aims outlined above. But the reality is, right now most home healthcare providers don’t have the people, time, or resources to do so. 

In fact, now more than ever it would benefit home healthcare providers to free up their time and resources – so they can focus on finding and retaining qualified home healthcare workers.

That’s why many home healthcare providers turn to an answering service for help.

Here are ten key ways an answering service can improve home healthcare quality by bridging client-caregiver communication gaps:

1. Round-the-clock support.

An answering service can provide 24/7 support to clients and their families, ensuring that they have access to assistance whenever they need it. This can help improve client satisfaction and reduce the risk of adverse events.

2. Emergency call answering and triage.

An answering service can screen and triage calls, ensuring that urgent issues are prioritized and non-urgent issues are handled appropriately. This can help reduce the workload for your team, as they only need to respond to calls that require their immediate attention.

3. Access to trained customer care experts. 

An answering service typically supports organizations in multiple different industries. With the right experience, an answering service can give you access to highly-trained customer care representatives that understand the nuances of the home healthcare industry and the importance of empathy and speed.

4. Advanced call routing technology.

An answering service can use advanced call routing technology to minimize wait times and ensure that calls are routed to the right customer care representative or caregiver. This can reduce the risk of miscommunication or delays in care.

5. Centralize caregiver communication.

An answering service can perform work-alone check-ins, attendance monitoring, and electronic visit verification. As a result, staff are safe, scheduled with adequate support, and arrive on time to ensure clients receive the care they deserve.

6. Relay messages in multiple channels and formats.

An answering service can relay messages immediately to staff through text, email, and telephone. This ensures all important information is documented and communicated to caregivers in a timely, convenient manner even when they’re on the go. 

7. Accessible service.

An answering service can also translate and relay messages in different languages. In addition to providing multi-lingual support, TTY (TeleTYpe) software can be used to provide service to deaf, hearing- and speech-impaired callers. Equitable access ensures you will be able to respond to questions and concerns in a more effective, efficient manner.

8. PIPEDA-compliance for peace of mind.

Clients trust you to keep them, and their data, safe. An answering service that adheres to PIPEDA can protect personal information and client privacy so that home healthcare providers and their teams can communicate with confidence.

9. Call recording and detailed reporting.

An answering service can ensure all calls are recorded and all the important details about both the caller and the conversation are captured. This allows you to review client interactions and identify trends and areas of opportunity, which can lead to better outcomes when tracked over time.

10. Standardize quality of service.

An answering service can provide you with a dedicated account manager to ensure ongoing quality assurance. They can help you standardize customer-facing protocols and processes, and provide personalized recommendations so you can improve quality AND continuity of care.

Our 400+ Canadian-based customer service reps are ready to answer questions, capture leads, and create positive customer interactions during regular business hours, after hours, or 24/7, 365.

Our frontline workers will handle the phones, so your frontline workers can provide high-quality care in homes. AnswerPlus’ customer care representatives can support your team and your clients during regular business hours, after-hours, or 24/7, 365.