It’s been a difficult time in Australia recently. Bushfires, floods and a pandemic virus have tested even the most resilient of us.

If anything, it’s highlighted just how important regular, accurate and clear communication is during times of emergencies, particularly when we’re faced with a rapidly changing situation. When the emergency poses a threat to life, it’s even more important to ensure that your communication strategy is efficient and effective.

Challenges faced by aged care providers

Even at the best of times, communication strategies for aged care, disability and home health care is challenging. However, during an emergency situation, it can be even more difficult to disseminate information efficiently and calmly.

All aged care providers still need to provide quality care to their customers during emergency situations, including self-isolations and evacuations. Given there are no national protocols for emergency procedures, it’s up to each aged care provider to manage these situations and have a plan in place that meets their State or Territory requirements. Effective communication must be part of that plan.

Communicating in an emergency is very different to everyday communication. Aged care providers not only need to mobilise plans to minimise risk for their clients, but for their staff — whether they are in-house or out in the field. They need to stay abreast of the latest developments and how they potentially impact staff and clients, and then be quick to make decisions, that can sometimes mean the difference between life and death. Add to the mix the many calls, emails and text messages from concerned families who want to know about the welfare of a loved one, and you can see that the situation can become very stressful, very quickly.

In the case of the recent bushfire crisis, many aged care homes were impacted with around 20 aged care providers needing to evacuate nationwide. Now with the threat of COVID-19, it’s even more important than ever that communication strategies in aged care are timely, efficient and streamlined.

Streamlined communications

While some providers are using technology in an attempt to streamline their communication processes, many platforms don’t ‘talk’ to one another, which means that human intervention is still required. Other aged care communication strategies rely on the traditional paper-based or word-of-mouth approach.

When faced with an emergency situation, both approaches have the potential to escalate stress levels into panic, especially when the people you’re trying to protect are elderly, and may be frail, vulnerable and afraid.

People’s expectations are changing. After speaking with multiple providers over the last month, we have discovered that being able to reach customers, teams and the wider community easily has challenged even the most prepared groups.

Many businesses have made communication relatively easy these days. For example, booking appointments online and receiving confirmation messages via text is fairly standard across the board. Not so in aged health and disability care. So we’re doing what we can to change this within the sector — especially with regard to critical response communications, and the way customers prefer to receive their communication.

How can providers best respond to a crisis?

When communicating information to relevant staff and customers, it’s important that you strike the right balance between disseminating up-to-date information while helping customers and teams to remain calm. This includes discerning which information needs to be shared, and which channel or method is the best way to deliver it.

Process and plans are the most important aspect of incident response, with the preferred channels to support these processes, second priority.

Looking at how groups have assisted their teams and customers over the last month, we’ve seen some of the below approaches that we wanted to share:

  • Personalised and relevant phone-based announcements to customers and teams. As phone is a key channel for aged care providers, assisting with a daily update around impacts to service delivery (if any) is an excellent approach.
  • Using other channels – SMS, app’s, emails to reach teams, customers and families. By sharing proactively, it reduced floods of calls into customers service, scheduling and case management teams.
  • Social media channels, websites and intranets have all been used to share relevant and updated information as, and when it becomes available to the public.

The above examples are just some of the ways our sector is responding to improve the daily lives of teams and the wider communities they work in and will reshape the sector for the better in the years to come.