It wasn’t until the pandemic hit that I realised just how important communication between care providers and relatives is. With so many people unable to visit their loved ones in care, it became the only way of reassuring them that everything was okay.
The recent changes removing guidance for care home visits and merging it with Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) guidance, along with the removal of asymptomatic testing, left both relatives and care providers confused and seeking clarification. Many relatives are concerned the IPC guidance will prevent visiting to be on the “safe side”. Although prior to publishing, I’m happy to note that a large number of care homes — both small and large-sized providers — have dropped visiting restrictions.
Regardless of COVID restrictions, we must remember the importance of communication. Of course, it’s always best to speak to the person you’re supporting to find out their preferred method of communication so you can implement this.
For this column, I asked 200 relatives what their preferred communication methods were and to share their feedback and suggestions for improving communication. I hope these findings will give you some insight and ideas for your care service.
Preferred communication methods
Over half of the relatives surveyed (51%) said they preferred communication to be face-to-face. They found it easier to understand because they could also use body language and the two-way nature of the conversation prevented misunderstandings.
As well as face-to-face communication, 5% of relatives told me they preferred communication to be via a relatives’ meeting with a joint agenda set by the care provider and the family of the person accessing the service. To make this easier to manage, services can encourage relatives to nominate a lead relative to set an agenda and guide these meetings.
16% of relatives said they preferred communication to be via telephone.
26% preferred communication to be via email.
And only 1 person out of the 200 (0.5%) said they preferred communication to be via video call.
2% of relatives said their preferred communication was via letter. One person suggested creating information packs to give to families when their loved one first goes into care. This would prevent them from having to ask so many questions and feeling like a burden. We then discussed this idea with a number of other relatives. They recommended including an example of an activities timetable, visiting times, how to arrange video calls, complaints procedure, spending money protocols, direct debit information and useful phone numbers in the information pack.
An information pack could be shared in a newsletter. I’ve personally used Famileo and this is a great way for staff, the people using the care service and relatives to interact with one another. If your budget doesn’t stretch that far, you could always knock something up on word or publisher to print or email out.
Communication doesn’t have to be hard. Friends and relatives know that you’re busy and they aren’t expecting the world. They just want to know their loved ones are okay.
Other things you can do to improve communication in your care service
Be honest and transparent
Many relatives said they were concerned they were told what they wanted to hear but not what needed to be heard. Communication must be transparent and honest. It’s vital that any feedback or recommendations are actioned to build trust between the care provider, the people accessing care and their families.
A number of relatives shared that in some services it wasn’t always clear who was responsible for what. It’s important that when various people are responsible for different things within the service, this is clearly communicated. One way could be on a poster in the foyer or within your complaint’s procedure.
Can you utilise technology to aid communication? The days of only one or two people being able to update a family member on their loved one should be long gone. Ensure systems are in place so that information and data can be pulled off and shared when requested.
You could set up a private Facebook group to share photos and provide two-way interaction between relatives and your service. If you plan to do this, you must consider GDPR and consent though!
When implementing or using technology, remember that it may not be for everyone. During the pandemic holding relatives’ meetings online meant some people were unable to attend. Make sure you have a plan for conveying messages to those who can’t make any online meetings.
Go the extra mile and think outside the box
Don’t wait for relatives to contact you, make time to contact them. It doesn’t need to take hours, drop them a message with a short update or send them a quick photo or video of their loved one with a caption. Remember, the impact of a video or photo is powerful but also reassures relatives and friends that their loved one is okay.
Re-think your communication strategy, does it need to come from the manager or director? Instead, you could assign a communications champion whose role involves ensuring relatives are updated, utilising new ways to communicate and updating noticeboards.
Remember, don’t just make contact when something goes wrong, ensure you’re communicating the positives too!
Think of the people you support
Take into account the wishes of the person you’re supporting and make sure you respect them. They have the final decision if they don’t want you to communicate with their friends or relatives, or perhaps they can’t communicate themselves and rely on you to relay messages and information.
Communication doesn’t have to be hard. Friends and relatives know that you’re busy and they aren’t expecting the world. They just want to know their loved ones are okay. Working in a care service, we must remember how relatives feel when they are not able to see their loved ones and how hard it must be to only hear the negatives or when something goes wrong.
As one relative very wisely advised:
“It’s important to remember that there’s a range of different ages of relatives of care home residents. Different methods of communication are preferred by different people. Many older people may not use mobile texts, video calls, or email and prefer written letters, face-to-face or telephone calls and we must consider those that are also visually or hearing impaired. One size does not fit all.”
As we come out of visiting restrictions, let’s aim to improve communication. I hope after reading this your first action will be to find out from each person you support (and their loved ones) their preferred method of communication and record it in their care plan.
If you would like any support to improve the communication within your service, please feel free to contact me on LinkedIn or Twitter. I can also put you in touch with relatives who are happy to provide their experiences and insight.