The culture of an aged care organisation is more important than rules and standards, says Adjunct Professor Alan Lilly, Chief Executive BlueCross Sapphire Care.

At last week’s Customer Experience in Aged Care Criterion Cota Australia Conference, Professor Lilly said that delivering better quality aged care depends more on changing cultures than it does on creating new regulatory regimes.

“Culture the way we do our work every day, and define our boundaries every day,” said Professor Lilly.

He said culture is what people actually experience and feel, and talk about in the community.

Sharing good news stories

Firstly, Professor Lilly said the industry must take responsibility for getting its ‘good news stories’ into the public arena and to be spoken about in the community. He said social media is a great way to do this.

Many aged care providers have no social media presence at all, and this is a missed opportunity to get good news spoken about, he said.

Professor Lilly said BlueCross Sapphire Care has introduced ways to put the organisation’s focus onto the customer, which is key to improving the culture of the organisation.

Putting the emphasis onto the customer

BlueCross Sapphire Care puts an emphasis on “building peaks, not fixing potholes” – with peaks events that feature “elevation, insight, and pride”.

Professor Lilly have the example of one facility offering a ‘wishing well’ where residents are given the opportunity to fulfil one of their dreams. The program has resulted in one resident seeing a Human Nature show, and others meeting members of the North Melbourne Football Club.

Encouraging carers to put themselves “in the customer’s shoes” is a reminder to feel empathy for the customer, and helps carers to better understand and respond to residents’ needs.

BlueCross Sapphire is striving to find “perfection”, said Professor Lilly.

Principles that define positive patient experiences

Contrasting public sector experience with the private sector, Professor Lilly said that in his previous role as Chief Executive of Eastern Health in Melbourne, Eastern Health developed 10 Principles to help the organization define what a “great patient experience” looks like.

  1. The patient’s needs, wants, preferences and values are known and taken into account
  2. The patient is a partner in decision-making about their care
  3. The patient has access to safe, effective and high quality healthcare delivered by skilled staff
  4. There is clear information that helps patients understand and manage their health as independently as possible
  1. Communication is open, honest and respectful, ensures confidentiality and is responsive to individual needs
  2. The physical environment promotes healing, is comfortable, clean, safe and allows privacy
  3. Staff listen, provide emotional support and treat patients, their families and carers with dignity and compassion
  1. Family and friends are involved in care in accordance with the wishes of the patient
  2. Care is well coordinated to ensure that the patient experiences continuity and smooth transitions
  3. Meals are enjoyable and nutritious

Listening to feedback

Listening to feedback is one of the key ways BlueCross Sapphire Care retains its focus on the customer.

The recent Oakden scandal is a prime example of the disasters that can befall residents and providers if feedback is not listened to, said Professor Lilly.

When Aaron Groves, Chief Psychiatrist of South Australia, handed down his findings of the Oakden facility, he commented that the recommendations made in the earlier review were “largely untouched”.

“No one was listening,” said Professor Lilly, even those who invited the review, and who should have known better, he said.

“A great place to learn and work”

To make BlueCross Sapphire Care “a great place to learn and work”, the company has four guiding principles – the four Ps: People, Performance, Principles, and Passion.

Silent shoppers call every month to ensure staff are answering queries to a high standard.

Guidelines have been developed to include information about all aspects of care, such as presentation, grooming, and emphasising the need that when a staff leave a resident’s room they conclude their conversation by asking if there is anything else they can help them with.

The importance of customer care in a deregulated environment

Professor Lilly said that in a deregulated aged care environment, it won’t be enough to simply build wonderful new facilities. The residents and their families must feel that the organisation is focused on caring for its residents.

Aged care providers must remain focused on the customer to be successful in the future market, said Professor Lilly.

If residents and family begin to suspect that care is not the top priority, “People will vote with their feet,” he said.

Consumer feedback

BlueCross Sapphire Care understands the importance and power of sharing stories and feedback from consumers online.

Professor Lilly said it’s important even to share the feedback isn’t 100 per cent positive. Some of the world’s  most successful brands, such as Apple and Emirates, don’t get 100 per cent positive consumer ratings, he said.

What is important is being open about the feedback, listening to concerns, and addressing them.

Though aged care has “come a long way” in the last 30 years, Professor Lilly said, the industry still has some way to go.

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