By Elizabeth George

Are your community’s caregivers spending more time fixing TV remotes than dealing with resident emergencies?

Nurse call systems have come a long way over the last couple decades. The early “call bell systems” – a reference that still lingers today – evolved to electronic push buttons with corresponding lights, and then expanded to include paging devices for staff, all with the goal of enabling senior living residents (as well as medical patients) to easily alert staff when they needed emergency assistance and get an immediate response.

While some of these earlier systems are still in use today, the introduction of technology more recently has provided an opportunity to do something that the other systems can’t do: capture data and provide reporting.

Technology enhancements to emergency call systems are revolutionizing caregiving – helping communities take one more step in the transition from being reactive to being proactive in the care they provide to residents.

Senior living communities are now able to reap the benefits of advanced systems that capture data including:

  • Length of time to respond to a resident call
  • Identity of the professional answering the call
  • Number of times a resident is pushing their call button
  • Reasons an emergency call is placed

This enables communities to accelerate their response times, improve caregiver efficiency and effectiveness, and develop individualized, data-driven solutions for residents and families.

While deploying devices that residents can easily access in an emergency is essential, these systems have presented a challenge to senior living staff and management: call system misuse. Communities find themselves responding multiple times to residents pushing their call buttons in non-emergency situations.

For help on how senior living companies can address the misuse of nursing call systems, I turned to Jessica Pearson, a former professional caregiver who is now Chief Operating Officer at Cornell Communications. Cornell, a Senior Living Foresight partner, is a leading provider of emergency call systems technology to senior living and healthcare providers.

As Jessica shared, there are a number of reasons outside of emergencies that residents may use their call devices. One issue can be associated with memory loss. “Sometimes residents may forget the reason they called once a caregiver arrives at their room and then need to call again a few minutes later for assistance.”

Other reasons may highlight a desire for more social interaction and activities outside the room. But the most common reason? Residents want help with their TV remotes.

The Risks are Real

I couldn’t help but smile at the thought of multiple residents calling for assistance with their televisions. It reminded me of my own panic one evening when, during an extremely exciting plot twist, I couldn’t access HBO for a Game of Thrones episode. I was calling HBO relentlessly trying to figure out how to download the next episode.

But the truth is that call system misuse presents very real risks, potentially endangering residents and leading to staff inefficiency and burnout.

Jessica shared, “The most important risk is that if your staff is spending time responding to multiple non-emergency calls, they are at risk of not being able to spend time when it counts.”

Remember the story about the boy who cried wolf? When resident call use becomes too frequent, it can feed the perception among staff that “emergencies aren’t actually emergencies” and it sometimes results in slower response time as staff becomes numb to calls.

The situation can also overwhelm staff who may be running from room to room dealing with non-emergency situations while needing to attend to other vital parts of their jobs. The risk to management is increased staff turnover. As Jessica says, “Trying to get it all done can be overwhelming and stressful, driving good staff to call it quits.”

What to Do?

While these situations can be frustrating, it’s important to take a “glass half full” perspective, especially when you’ve got a system with data capabilities. Keeping mindful of the system’s many advantages – information at your fingertips to better know and help your resident – can go a long way in maintaining a positive attitude, ensuring quick response times and identifying constructive solutions.

Jessica shares a couple of recommendations for managing the issue:

Leverage the system’s reason codes to identify and address root causes. Data captured in nursing call systems provides a good starting point for identifying, quantifying, and addressing the cause of a resident’s frequent calls.

“Using the reason codes may show that a resident’s care plan needs to be changed or that there is a need to add in more social interactions. This helps the resident and frees staff to focus on the care that needs to be provided.”

Use the data to engage the family constructively. The objectivity that data provides can be a gift when it comes to having conversations with families about the situation. Families may sometimes hear from their loved ones that their community is slow to respond or doesn’t respond to calls. Sharing the numbers enables a conversation to move from a “he said, she said” to a constructive dialogue about what is happening, what can be done, and how the families might also help.

To learn more about how companies have improved emergency response times, decreased staff turnover, and established peace of mind for families with Cornell’s emergency call systems, visit their website.