Lauren Bittner is a freelance writer located in Chicago. Bittner covers a variety of subjects and works at helping seniors downsize their homes.
Should a franchise create its own proprietary software or buy something off the shelf?
It depends on the way the business wants to use its resources.
While the process of implementing new technology for a franchise system comes with its challenges, the verdict is that the pros far outweigh the cons for everyone in the franchise system—franchisers, franchisees, clients and adult children.
“Technology is a big deal,” Reem Aloul, president and owner of BrightStar Care of Arlington, Virginia, said. “Not all of my people are in one physical location. They are working fairly independently in a client’s home, but I know what time they clock in and clock out.”
BrightStar Care CTO, Jim Kearns, also stresses the importance of robust scheduling. “When we started automated time and attendance the owners said, ‘I had no idea they (the caregivers) were arriving late or leaving early,’” Kearns said. “Now you are paying for the actual time the caregivers are working, and you know if you have an employee issue.”
While bringing technology into a franchise system is about saving time and money, it’s just as much about increasing the quality of care for patients and creating peace of mind for their families. “In our living room assessment we can guarantee that if the caregiver is 10 minutes late the office will be notified, and someone will get out there to take care of the patient,” Kearns said.
Timeliness is so important that Griswold Home Care of San Antonio, Texas, allows its scheduling feature to integrate with GPS systems. This is a far cry from how things used to work. “I used to have to manually tell caregivers how to get there,” George McGuire, director of operations and future development for the San Antonio location, said. “Now caregivers can check into the portal and look into information for where clients live…they can plug into Google Maps.”
A New Kind of Matchmaking
Griswold’s technology ensures that the client is comfortable with the caregiver and vice-versa before the caregiver arrives. McGuire compares it to matchmaking.
“When we onboard a caregiver we identify several different skillsets or attributes—pet allergies, fear of pets, if they accept smoking clients, ambulation experience, meal preparation,” McGuire said. “We take that information and put it into the system. We weed out caregivers against any skillset we enter. Instead of scrolling through 150 caregivers, we only look at 10.”
Clients’ experiences greatly improve when they know something about the caregivers before they visit. McGuire can’t stress that enough. “The Staff Page on the franchisee’s website is the most frequented page,” McGuire said. “They just want to become familiar with you before they come out to their home. It’s a people business.”
The caregivers have a chance to screen out clients, too. They can accept or decline the job based on the client’s preferences.
Satisfying the families of patients is an important piece of the puzzle for any homecare business.
FirstLight Homecare’s technology allows family members in multiple locations to share information. It’s one way Bill McPherson, FirstLight’s director of franchise development, is addressing a growing trend he’s seeing—higher expectations of adult children. “Adult decision makers continue to expect more service and quality of care,” McPherson said. “Doing it right is the main differentiator.”
Griswold’s technology features a “family room” that allows clients, loved ones and caregivers to communicate. “The technology allows everyone to read messages daily, including health basics,” Griswold Home Care COO Mike Magid said. “The caregiver can see what he/she is doing. The family can communicate and schedule an appointment. They can see what activities the caregiver is performing. The caregivers can communicate with the office.”
Technology eliminates many manual, labor-intensive processes for franchises. “It openly translates to slightly better margins,” Aloul said. “Other things are so much easier without swimming in a sea of paperwork. If and when you get audited by The Joint Commission it’s tied up accurately.”
Changes to treatment plans that used to take a least a week can be made in minutes. The use of an electronic system also allows changes to be made to the patient’s plan of care in a fraction of the time they used to take. “The minute the nurse changes it the caregiver can see it,” Aloul said.
Eliminating paper can make a business more attractive to caregivers. “When you go from paper to technology, people don’t want to change,” Kearns said. “I had a lot of resistance from caregivers (at first). Now they love it. The average caregiver gets two to three calls a week for other jobs. They always ask me: ‘If I go to your company do I have to go back to paper?’”
24/7 Access to Physicians
Griswold Home Care is using a technology called Teladoc to allow their patients, employees and employees’ loved ones—including parents with children—to have around-the-clock phone access to doctors. “If you’re a caregiver, a client or family member of a caregiver, you have the ability to access a board-certified physician 365 days a year, 24 hours a day,” Magid said.
The worst time to get sick is when doctors are unavailable, the weekends or odd hours. The point of Teladoc is to make those situations a little less stressful and prevent unnecessary ER visits. That’s not to say that someone who used the service would never need to go to the ER. With Teladoc, callers will get some advice as to whether the ER is the best route. “Let’s say it’s 12 a.m. on Saturday when you’re not feeling well,” Magid said. “You would usually go to ER. You may not need to because you can get guidance. You can get peace of mind and good advice. You can call in a prescription at 12:30 a.m.”
Build It or Buy It?
Griswold Home Care began developing its own technology, then invested that energy elsewhere and bought something from a third party. “We rely purely on third-party vendors. We are not a tech company,” Magid said.
BrightStar, on the other hand, built their own and has a different philosophy. “Our technology is 100 percent proprietary,” Kearns said. “Nothing is outsourced. Everything is done by employees who understand the business and model.”