Seven Points to Remember When Implementing Software Solutions in a Care Home

As a Director of a company that supplies software solutions into the care home sector, it is often amazing to find how naive and unprepared many care homes are for both the selection and implementation of a computerised care record management system. Using this experience, I have put together the following seven point plan to help care home owners and managers recognise the key focus points of the process that they will undertake and hopefully avoid the pitfalls.

One: Understand your goals
A large variety of care home software has appeared in the sector over the last three or four years. Some of these products provide a specific solution to a need, for example dealing with medication records and dispensing, quality management systems to assist in compliance with statutory regulations, etc. Others offer a ‘complete’ solution covering client invoicing and financial management, care planning and recording, policies and procedures, staff training, employee attendance management and scheduling. It makes sense, therefore, to take a long and detailed look at the areas of the business and pinpoint the areas where greater controls and efficiencies are required and could be achieved through computerisation. You will then be able to present to any potential supplier a clear picture of what you are seeking thereby helping both you and them to come to a position of understanding quickly and avoid wasting time for either party.

Two: Involve the staff in the decision
It often surprises me that the care staff that will be asked to use the chosen system are frequently not asked for their input during the selection process. Although care home staff are adapting to technology at an increasing pace, there are still a generation or more of carers that are unfamiliar with a computer keyboard and may feel apprehensive about their introduction into their work place. These fears have to be overcome to produce a successful outcome for the introduction of a computerised care record system. Involving the care team from the outset will show them what benefits can occur, how the chosen system will work for them (and not against them) and how, with reduced time spent on paperwork, carers can actually return to devoting more of their time to caring.

Three: Understand it is a project that requires time
Another surprising one! People that work in care homes are genuinely busy people responding to the needs of the service users for whom they are caring and the demands of the various regulatory authorities. Why then do care home owners and managers then assume that they and their staff, currently occupied with one full time job, will magically find the time to do another day job; namely the implementation of a computerised care system? Work out who will take the role of supervising the implementation and give them the time to do it. Work out how much time will be needed on data input to initially get the new system operational and assign a person or staff the time to complete this process accurately and without excessive time pressures.

Four: Draw up a project plan
Yes implementing a computerised care record management system is a project. Another obvious statement but one which is often not seen to be true until the various elements of which the project comprises have been dealt with in a haphazard manner that has seen many false starts and wrong turns. A computerised care record system is unlike most other system implementations: It involves both care floor and back office staff, both IT familiar and, in extreme situations, IT-phobic employees. The work environment is a constant 24/7 routine punctured with often unforeseen and likely unpredictable care episodes and service user demands. It is not like introducing another back office system such as accounting or payroll application – only impacting on staff comfortable with software technology, seated in an office environment and able to divert calls or answer e-mails as the implementation process allows. Look at the diversity of staff and care documents involved and understand how the implementation will therefore unfold within the care home.

Five: Review your current documentation
I always make the, generally correct, assumption that the care home I am talking with will want to retain their current documentation; it has been built up typically over a long period of time and gone through many large and small changes as staff and service users come and go. Every care home therefore becomes as unique as its documentation set. However, when I ask to review this documentation as part of my understanding of the care home’s requirement, it is quite understandable to find that there are overlapping records, duplications and in some places a lack of clarity in what the record requires for completion. This is especially true in the areas of daily or shift notes and initial assessment tools. Computerising these documents therefore provides the ideal opportunity to review their content and current relevance. And of course the obvious statement to make at this stage is that if the systems you are considering do not accommodate your documentation then are they what you require and providing an improved alternative?

Six: Review how the staff will use and access the system
In my experience care is not very often provided in front of a computer screen or indeed behind a laptop. Consider therefore if your implementation will be successful if you only provide limited access to the point or points where care staff will be reviewing or entering resident records. How serious will your commitment to the new system appear to your staff if they are asked to walk considerable distances to access it? I appreciate that space is at a premium in most care home environments, as indeed are funds, so investing in several PCs, network infrastructure and the required desk space may be beyond the contemplation of many. However some solutions are now being supplied with alternative options such as wall mounted touch screens and mobile tablet computers that provide cost-effective and, perhaps, more appropriate methods of providing a computerised record management system to the care team at their real place of work.

Seven: Implement in small bite-size chunks
This point ties so much together of what I have covered already. The time pressures on the implementation team and the desire to achieve rapid success often see the care home attempt too much too quickly. Take some time to plan and tackle recording issues that will bring positive momentum to the project. Frequently I tell the project team to start with the shift or daily notes recording function. This may be broken down further by a particular group of residents that have an especially high volume recording overhead or they are based in a particular area or medical speciality wing of the care home. Typically the documents in this area are simple to implement in the software and produce very quick results. Carers get to see how the system can bring benefit to them personally in a large and often laborious part of their daily work routine. The implementation has a first success quickly under its belt and can move forward positively to the next – and similarly concisely defined – record set.