Mobile Applications for Home Care Agencies: Features and Benefits

Mobile Applications for Home Care Agencies: Features and Benefits

by Scott R. Herrmann, Director of Mobile Solutions for Procura.

First appeared in Tim Rowans Home Care Technology Report:

In the second of my HCTR series on wireless technologies, I focus on mobile technology at the point of care. These systems simplify communication to field staff and lead to better patient outcomes and agency results. Mobile applications provide real time automation of schedules, care plans, time and attendance, GPS (Global Positioning System) and location information. Let's take a closer look at these and other features.

Mobile applications

Simply stated, mobile technology at the point of care is like telephony on steroids! It allows staff to make decisions and deliver care while having access via their mobile devices to the latest information about the patient to whom they are attending. Pads, tablets, cell phones, smart phones can all work in this secure real time environment with only a data plan or a wireless connection.

Visit data can easily be transmitted and shared in real time with your agency's clinical system. A mobile application allows agencies to dramatically reduce paper processes while increasing productivity and compliance, all while delivering better patient care. With a mobile home care application, agencies can: Automate care plans; Collect vital signs; Create and read notes about the current or a previous visit; See client details (allergies, diagnosis, contact info, etc.); Collect timesheet and location data to automatically verify visits.

How mobile applications work

With a mobile device, the need to make a call with the client's phone is eliminated. Accountability of when and where the visit happened is accomplished via GPS and a clock in the cellular device. Care plans, vital signs and notes are all captured on the device and sent instantly at the completion of a visit. Recording tasks completed is mandatory, so nothing can be forgotten, which means compliance is virtually assured and audits are no longer an issue. Every task is completed, and if not, a reason must be supplied. An easy to use mobile application allows caregivers to check off items from a care plan with just a touch or click, dramatically increasing field staff productivity and getting 100% compliance on the visit itself. Try that with paper! The mobile approach does have a larger upfront cost but results have proven that over a short period of time an agency will gain many unforeseen benefits; either a hard dollar return on their investment or, at a minimum, cost recovery.

Additional benefits

Non-financial benefits include eliminating the back and forth phone calls in the office when schedule changes occur. Now these updates are automated! The agency has a newfound ability to fill assignments faster, as well as respond to urgent needs and requests of the clients, due to the GPS and mapping capabilities in the application. GPS also provides accurate data for mileage and travel reimbursements, a potential reduction in operational costs. Accurate data for payroll means fewer billing errors. Operational efficiency gains help to deliver the care required better than can be done with paper, phone calls or manual data processing. With a mobile application, real-time information contained on the device keeps caregivers on top of current schedules and care plans and helps to reduce treatment errors that often result from out-of-date information. In the office, administrators only deal with visit exceptions, not every visit.

Data entry is decreased or eliminated, while hardcopy costs and the need for paper storage are reduced. Mobile applications simplify communication by transferring information to and from EHR systems. They keep information up-to-date, supporting proactive management decisions by supplying alerts for time-sensitive issues such as too long a visit, too short a visit, or simply being late to check in. Workers' mobile functions can be monitored for safety purposes as well as accountability. Knowing where caregivers are allows faster changes to schedules and speeds up the delivery of urgent care to clients. Industry leaders using mobile technology have also found that mobile services provide a defense against cost cutting measures coming soon from CMS. Mobile also provides an avenue for an agency to use applications such as text messaging and email, which help delivery of healthcare information. Just make sure you take measures to ensure you remain compliant with HIPAA regulations! In my opinion, mobile technology is a global solution to home care agency cost reduction.

But don't take just my opinion. According to Michael Siegel, former CIO of Addus HealthCare, now Managing Partner of MCS Associates, LLC, "The GPS-enabled cell phone system we deployed at Addus provided accurate caregiver arrival and departure times and reductions in mileage and travel time expenses (approximately 18%) one would expect from any good EVV system. But beyond that, our ability to see our caregivers' current location in real time, combined with our ability to immediately communicate with them via text messages, allowed us to effectively back-fill cancelled visits and quickly find caregivers to make an initial visit for a new referral."

As mobile devices and applications written for them continue to evolve, they will be used in additional ways, including using the camera, accessing social media, employer portals or health web sites, and connecting to wireless vital sign devices. Some uses will extend beyond clinical applications into business functions. For example, Saint Elizabeth Home Care in Ontario is using Quick Response Codes (QR technology) for fundraising. Mobile healthcare applications will dramatically change the way your agency operates. They change marketing tactics and provide new ways to increase revenues. Most importantly, with mobile, the patient gets the best possible care, because the staff has the latest actionable, meaningful information about each patient's condition. These benefits lead to containing costs and increasing compliance while delivering your home care services. Scott R. Herrmann is Director of Mobile Solutions for Procura

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