Nearly every in-home care provider would agree that making a good first impression with a client or patient is vitally important to the relationship. Sometimes, though, that’s easier said than done.
That’s why many agencies, such as Amedisys (Nasdaq: AMED), Silverado, 24Hr HomeCare, and Marquis Companies, spend time and money training caregivers how to make positive connections with clients and their families from the outset.
Some of their top tips for a good first meeting include listening, good non-verbal skills and making sure there’s chemistry.
Most providers first talk with their clients or patients as they transition from a hospital or skilled nursing facility (SNF) back home.
For Baton Rouge-based Amedisys, one of the nation’s largest home health care providers, the relationship usually begins with a phone call or in-person visit from a care transition coordinator. That interaction generally covers a patient’s medical history and services offered by Amedisys or expected by the patient. Loved ones or others who help take care of the patient are also often involved in that discussion.
During the first regular visit, clinicians break the ice by introducing themselves and giving clients their undivided attention for at least an entire minute. Home health aides also don’t immediately open their laptops and start taking notes, says Brenda Dile, vice president of clinical practice for Amedisys’s northeast region.
“That first 60 seconds, I’ve learned, is when we have to give that patient that undivided attention,” Dile tells Home Health Care News. “Not only to the patient, but to the family as well.”
The idea is to give a client or their loved ones the chance to speak their mind, list concerns or ask questions.
“It may not be the most significant problem clinically, but when you address those concerns first, the patient becomes more relaxed,” Dile says.
In the initial visit, clinicians also go over the patient’s goals, such as being well enough to play golf or just walk across a room. The care recipients are encouraged to weigh in on the process as much as possible.
“The patient…has to participate in that plan of care in order for us to be successful,” Dile says. “When the patient or family sees they are allowed to participate, then that first impression is a great one.”
Making a good first impression always results in better client and caregiver relationships, says Cindy Ritchie, vice president of clinical practice for Amedisys’s Carolinas region.
“I think introducing themselves, making eye contact and speaking to everybody in the room opens it up that everyone is a human,” Ritchie tells HHCN. “The introduction really does help to make a successful visit.”
24Hr HomeCare, a California-based private duty home care provider with locations in Arizona and Texas, also emphasizes listening skills among its workers, says Joe Zimmer, vice president for 24 HomeCare’s southwest region.
“It’s important for us to be great listeners,” Zimmer tells HHCN. ”What seems to be a small task or activity could really make all the difference for the client.”
One way to make a better first impression is to study whether a caregiver and a client are a good match before they meet.
Silverado does this by learning as much as about a client’s likes and dislikes before the first visit, such as food preferences, languages spoken in the household or religion.
“We really take great attention to our client’s family and we make sure to educate our personal attendants on what the client likes,” Linden says. “So, it’s not a stranger meeting a stranger, but a personal attendant who has some knowledge of the environment they’re walking into.”
Some technology-focused startups, such as Chicago-based Respect, even made client and caregiver matchmaking a central part of its platform and market presence. Addus Homecare (Nasdaq: ADUS) and Bayada Home Health Care also take cultural considerations into account.
24Hr HomeCare offers a free in-home care consultation to prioritize important services. The goal is to “identify those important things so we can prepare the caregiver as best as possible,” Zimmer says.
The agency also emphasizes flexibility in care, including switching out a caregiver who isn’t a good match.
“We could have the most qualified caregiver in the world, but they may not be the best fit for your mom or dad,” Zimmer says.
Another important area of focus is on what is not said. A firm handshake, eye contact and a professional appearance can go a long way for caregivers when they first meet patients and clients.
Many agencies require caregivers to don uniforms or name tags before visiting patients.
At 24Hr HomeCare, team members working to arrange care wear light-colored khakis and a light blue polo with the company’s logo. Caregivers wear either scrubs or business casual attire and an official company ID during home visits.
“We found that professional uniforms and a name tag that identifies you would eliminate any skepticism that the client has,” Zimmer says.
And although it may seem like common sense, showing up on time is very important to making a good first impression, Zimmer says.
“With older adults, we find that they’re very conscientious of timeliness,” he explains. “Simply being on time and coming in with a smile can make all the difference in the world.”
Silverado, a senior living and home care provider that specializes in dementia services, doesn’t require uniforms; it only asks caregivers to dress professionally and practically, Jennifer Linden, vice president of home care, tells HHCN.
“We have a dress code and a standard appearance, but no uniforms,” Lindsen says. “We don’t want [clients] to feel like they’re in a clinical setting.”
All new hires from Amedisys take part in its “skilled lab,” which teaches caregivers verbal greeting and non-verbal cues such as posture, eye contact and understanding of personal space.
Marquis Companies, a, Milwaukie, Oregon-based company that offers home health care, post-acute rehab and senior living services in California, Nevada and Oregon, teaches its home health aides about “the power of a smile,” says Nicole Burnham, administrator of Marquis at Home.
“Marquis puts all of the potential caregivers through a working interview which teaches them about customer service, professional caregiving relationships, medication management, client safety [and] person-centered care planning,” Burnham tells HHCN. “This assures that all caregivers are well-trained before entering a home.”
No matter how the first impression is made, a good one can set the relationship on firm footing and help ensure many more smiles to come.