New technology is helping facilities manage visitors and reporting requirements and improve the experience for all, writes Natasha Egan.
People are seldom excited about new processes and procedures. Especially when they involve more red tape or come during a time of unprecedented upheaval. Despite this, a visitor management system implmented at Royal Freemasons’ Benevolent Institution villages in New South Wales and ACT in the first half of 2020 has all facility stakeholders cheering.
The measures form part of RFBI’s investment in technology and additional staffing to ensure residents and their loved ones can stay connected during the coronavirus pandemic and related restrictions.
At the centre of the approach is an online visitor booking system that allows families to arrange a visit of their choice and stay up to date with RFBI’s visiting protocols and pre-entry screening criteria. Most villages offer a minimum of face-to-face visits, video calls and window or balcony visits.
Linda Selem, administration officer from RFBI Bellingen Masonic Village, says the online booking system has been well-received.
“This process has allowed families access to their loved ones in a controlled manner, as well as making it easier on administration staff who would normally be the ones taking bookings over the phone,” Selem tells Australian Ageing Agenda.
“This system has brought a lot of joy and happiness to families, friends and our residents – it has been wonderful to see at this time.”
Visitors who are less technically savvy can still book by calling the village and staff will record it in the online system. The system aims to make arranging a visit as easy as possible for families and staff, and putting it online allows families to make booking requests 24 hours a day, says Alans Parker, chief marketing officer at RFBI.
“The system is very intuitive and easy to use. Families simply select their village, select the type of visit they would like to book and their preferred time slot. Once our team confirms the booking, a booking confirmation email is sent to the family member with details of our visiting protocols and pre-entry screening criteria,” Parker tells AAA.
To ensure a smooth process, RFBI has introduced a concierge role at each village to manage the online bookings and all aspects of the visit from pre-entry screening through to escorting visitors to the appropriate location where they wait outside to offer assistance if needed.
Janine Williams, who is village concierge at RFBI Goulburn Masonic Village, says the online booking system has made managing visitor appointments easy.
“It allows us to view all of the appointments we have scheduled and because the booking confirmations are automated and include all of the information families need to know about visiting our village, it saves us a lot of time as well,” Williams tells AAA.
Around 1,000 RFBI residents received a visit with a loved one since RFBI introduced the booking system at the start of June. One of those visitors is Lani Carmody, who visits Iris Carmody at RFBI Raleigh Urunga Masonic Village. She describes the online booking system as simple and efficient.
“The process of completing the questionnaire and having our temperature taken before visiting is necessary and provides a level of comfort with regards to the protection of the residents,” Carmody tells AAA.
RFBI has also focused on making visits a special and enjoyable time for residents and their families. Villages have created dedicated areas for face-to-face visits, furnished to create a warm and inviting environment. At RFBI Tamworth Masonic Village, for example, residents and their families using the dedicated visitor room are offered beverages and sweets.
RFBI says the new visiting protocols are very different from what they were used to and it has required some adjustment from staff, residents and families.
“On the whole, everyone understands the importance of pre-entry screening and the role this has in keeping residents and staff safe. Families have expressed their gratitude for the work we are doing to keep their loved ones safe and happy, and for our staff the new visitor booking system has offered time savings and greater efficiencies in the management of visitor appointments,” the provider says.
Mitigating the threat of COVID
Digital visitor management solutions can effectively help manage threats caused by the current health pandemic, says Stephen Darracott, vice president and country manager of ecommerce vendor Pitney Bowes Japan, Australia and New Zealand.
“To mitigate the threat of COVID-19 across aged care homes, it is crucial for facilities to know exactly who is or has been on their premises. With the current visitor restrictions in place, the implementation of a digital visitor management solution allows facilities to easily track and trace visitor movements,” Darracott tells AAA.
“A good digital solution will let you customise health and safety questions at sign-in to screen whether a person has had their flu vaccine or come in contact with anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19.”
A digital visitor management solution in aged care homes can maximise the safety of residents, staff and visitors while minimising the security risks. Conversely, a non-digital or paper-based visitor check-in process is highly administrative and makes gathering and tracking this information from visitors a challenge, says Darracott.
“Having a digital visitor management solution with self-service sign-in reduces the need for physical contact with your admin staff, can give you quick reporting of who is on your site and who may have visited in previous hours or days, in case you need to trace and contact recent visitors.”
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Pitney Bowes adapted its digital visitor management system LobbyTrac to match the specific requirements for the aged care sector, such as enabling health-related questions and flu vaccine certifications, says Darracott.
They have implemented the solution across aged care facilities in Australia, says Darracott, although he wouldn’t say at how many facilities. He says key features include easy contact tracing, compliance with new site management requirements and government guidelines and contactless check-in.
“Contactless check-in means that visiting professionals, contractors and family members can pre-register for barcode access to the facility, so staff don’t need to physically check in visitors,” Darracott says.
In addition to maximising safety and security for all stakeholders including residents, he says systems like LobbyTrac also offer a productive solution for managing visitors, contractors and staff.
“A digital visitor management solution simplifies the sign-in sign-out process by capturing and storing all the pertinent information to a secure database – enabling real-time reporting and greatly enhancing existing non-digital security processes,” Darracott says.
Managing client experiences
St Vincent’s Care Services is another provider that has turned to technology to help manage visitors to its 20 residential aged care facilities across Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria in response to evolving and differing policies including varying visitor restrictions around the country.
In this case, the provider teamed up with RateIt, which is a customer experience platform that captures, analyses and interprets feedback, to test and rollout a new and customised visitor booking system called Zipline.
Prue Densley, SVCS executive general manager of consumer experience, says she approached RateIt for help because they wanted to both report and manage client experiences while meeting Commonwealth and state rules. RateIt suggested trialling Zipline and redeveloped it for SVCS to use, she says.
“We needed this type of tool to be used by both contact centre staff and reception, especially when dealing with walk-in visitors. Flexibility was crucial as regulations continually altered, so making sure this app also had the smarts to handle these timing changes was very important to us,” Densley says.
The app was tested in two facilities then extended to a further four sites a week later after making some tweaks. After three weeks of testing, SVCS launched the customised booking system app at all 20 facilities in early April.
Zipline provides SVCS a snapshot of visitor numbers per day and per site, which helps the team plan for peak visitor periods based on the data captured, says Densley. The app also sends an SMS to each visitor, asking for feedback, which provides real-time responses on their experience.
“This new system means we are complying with the government’s rulings, keeping people safe and secure, and managing expectations of the families visiting. Zipline also provides state managers with complete transparency about what has been going on at each facility – this is especially handy since most have to work remotely,” Densley says.
The greatest outcome from using the system is understanding what clients are feeling and thinking, she says.
“For example, we recently found out that 90 per cent of our visitors think the COVID-19 safety measures we have put in place are just right – we would never have access to this type of insight in the past.”
Densley says Zipline has made a huge impact on the business and she would recommend it to others.
Main image: Kerrie visiting Lena at RFBI Goulburn Masonic Village.
A longer version of this article first appeared in Australian Ageing Agenda magazine (Jul-Aug 2020).