When it comes to screening staff and visitors, what’s your next move for cost effective screening?
Since early this year the coronavirus pandemic has forced administrators and executive directors to screen all staff and visitors for COVID-19 symptoms and risk exposure. Facility operators are under tremendous pressure to follow screening guidelines to ensure the safety of both staff and residents while controlling costs and maintaining business viability. With the resurgence of COVID-19 cases, it’s apparent that staff and visitor screening will be required for the foreseeable future, possibly well into 2021 or longer.
A common objective is to streamline the screening process to reduce work effort, ensure compliance to state and federal mandates, and minimize cost. This raises an important question on most administrator’s minds:
“How can technology help me in making screening easier, keep me in compliance, and still be cost effective?”
Here are 8 tips to ensure you receive the most value from technology investments for screening staff and visitors:
1. First understand limitations of manual screening
When it comes to screening there are two approaches manual or through a computer system. Manual screening is simple to implement, can be done by any staff with little training, can work without dependence on technology, and has a low “cost of acquisition”. However, it is both time and labor intensive, costly (since it requires a full-time employee), necessitates space for storing binders, has propensity for human errors and potential delays in communication, makes generating reports for state surveyors cumbersome, and “does not scale” when communities fully reopen for visitors as your staff can get overwhelmed with social distancing requirements. Do any of these apply to you?
2. Review the pros and cons of technology enabled screening
Computerized screening can overcome many of the drawbacks of manual screening resulting in significant cost and times savings. Done right a full-time employee (FTE) would not be needed and reporting for surveyors can be quick and efficient. Other benefits include real-time alerts, reduced workload on staff, 24/7 availability, and scale to accommodate anticipated rush of visitors once communities finally reopen. Drawbacks of computerized screening could include a higher initial “cost of acquisition”, possible staff training, maintenance cost (e.g. monthly subscriptions), and possible dependence on WiFi/internet connectivity.
3. Understand and enumerate your goals
Each organization’s goal for digitizing screening could vary and evolve with time. Goals might include cost savings, time savings, lowering staff burden, improving “curb appeal” for tours, and reassuring families through state-of-the-art technology deployment. Understanding and acknowledging goals can ensure you are selecting the ideal technology for your environment. Gathering the viewpoints of all departments in your organization can help you develop a checklist of goals and use it for your decision making.
4. Gather More Information
How many staff members are involved in your community operations, and what are the average number of healthcare providers who deliver services on a daily basis? If you have a moderate to larger size community with a diverse staff, and/or have high frequency of external providers and family visitors coming into your community then digitizing this screening process for both staff and visitors could provide a substantial return on your investment. Also, ask yourself how the data you gather might change with time. It is probably safe to assume that the volume of visitors will increase significantly when communities fully reopen. Review historical pre-COVID data for your community as a reference point.
5. Understand the real costs of any technology you are evaluating
When considering investment costs, take into account the acquisition cost as well as the long-term cost of maintaining the technology. Most digital technologies include a monthly subscription cost. Projecting the sum of the acquisition cost and the monthly subscriptions over a 3 year period, and comparing it to the direct labor costs can provide you with a good start to determining the ROI of technology adoption.
6. Don’t ignore what it takes to implement technology successfully
Take into account the time involved in training your staff on procedures and protocols, and how new staff can be on-boarded after the initial “go-live” period. If the solution is easy to use, implementation is not only faster at the beginning, but maintenance should also be easier on an ongoing basis, especially if you have high staff turnover. Look beyond the sizzle as you evaluate the options and ask questions such as – Will my staff take to this? Who needs to be involved if something goes wrong? Can your maintenance team help?
7. Inventory your infrastructure and environment
What is your existing infrastructure? Gone are the days of technology silos. Communities may have a door access control system in place already for staff, and newer technology may or may not be required to fit in this environment. In almost all cases, network connectivity would be required, so you need to check this first. If you have other IT systems you might have a desire for a screening system to work in concert with other technologies you have invested in. Again key questions to ask yourself – How does this fit in with my existing infrastructure? Do you need it to?
8. Budget and plan ahead for technology
This is probably the most difficult challenge in adopting new technologies. What is my budget? Can I afford it? Organizations large and small are under considerable financial pressure because of COVID-19. You might need to be creative in identifying capital sources for deploying technology to support their operational desires. You might need to find a solution you can phase-in over time. Working with your financial team as well with vendors who value community partnership can result in positive outcomes and win/win(s). Ask yourself – Is there a way I can tap into my operating budget to finance the technology implementation?
On a final note effectiveness of any system is dependent on the confluence of three factors – technology, people and processes. A holistic approach with the right technology can automate screening, make it cost-effective, and also provide benefits such as visitor contact tracing that otherwise would not be possible.