Providing clients greater choice under a consumer-directed model means building trust, listening and offering relevant expertise, a leading provider has said.
As the sector looks to expand greater consumer choice more fully across aged care, services face the risk of providing seniors with choices without also ensuring they are adequately informed.
Aged care services should use their expertise and knowledge to effectively broaden the scope of choice for clients, according to Victorian aged care provider Baptcare.
Kathleen Stewart, Baptcare’s quality partner, said that when clients enter a service they can often only be looking for assistance with certain tasks such as showering or cleaning. “If we were just going to be superficial about client choice, it might end there,” Ms Stewart told Australian Ageing Agenda ahead of her presentation at the Quality in Aged Care conference.
But armed with well-trained, knowledgeable staff and evidence-based tools, aged care providers could identify if a client may be at risk of issues such as falls, depression on malnutrition. From there, they could further highlight other services that may be relevant to a client that they might not have previously considered.
Ms Stewart gave an example of a wheelchair-bound client who had accessed Baptcare’s services to receive help with shopping. Through the assessment process, it was identified the man had not had any rehabilitation. He was offered physiotherapy services, which he chose to take up and eventually, he was able to walk up the stairs in his house, something he hadn’t done in two years.
“But that was never going to be his choice at the beginning, because he’d never had the information that there were more gains to be made. By informing him more was possible, he could make a different kind of choice,” she said.
Ms Stewart said most aged care clients were not health professionals or industry experts, and it was up to services to provide clients with suitable information relevant to their goals, needs and interests.
Likewise, if a client chose to decline a service or make a choice a deemed “risky”, it was the provider’s role to be flexible and respect that.
“It’s much more a shared-decision making process, where we bring the information and the expertise of our profession to the table, and the client brings their values and their view of the world,” said Ms Stewart.
“Both things are necessary for that decision to be informed and for it be in the client’s best interest – and it may not be a decision we would make for ourselves.”
Baptcare’s customer experience partner Belinda Wood said providers had to also be aware that client’s needs and wants may change over time, and engagement must be ongoing.
Clients were often in a time of crisis when they entered services, and addressing immediate basic care needs may be most important at that time. But as the crisis abated it may be more appropriate for a provider to start a conversation with the client about functional gains, or social and lifestyle interests, Ms Wood said.
Moreover, in order to provide effective care, providers had to build trust with their clients at both an individual and organisational level, improving the overall customer service experience, said Ms Wood.
Baptcare has moved away from using an annual survey to get feedback from its clients to using electronic hand-held devices to track customer experience in real time, allowing a “constant dialogue.”
The provider was also now involving customers in strategic planning days and was using client input to help shape the organisation. For example, in one residential facility, residents were helping design and renovate a lounge area to their tastes, said Ms Wood.
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