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How can technology be harnessed to improve the delivery of care to vulnerable people and can lessons learned in the care sector be adapted to other sectors?
Workingmums.co.uk’s Top Franchise Award for Innovation 2017 went to Bluebird Care. The judges said that Bluebird Care presented a gold standard for other franchises and were leaders in their industry in terms of their investment in technology to support franchisees and the people they were caring for.
They noted that the franchise was both innovative in a business and social sense and said its innovations could be adapted by franchisors across the board.
PR and Marketing Manager Alex Cavell is part of the senior management team. He says that innovation and technology is driven by a focus on improving service delivery. He states: “It is my personal belief that we should look at everything through the eyes of a person receiving care and the people who are important to them. We need to make sure we are consistently providing the very best care. It matters how people feel about our service.”
Founded in 2004, Bluebird Care was bought in September 2013 by US-based Interim HealthCare Inc and has 16 employees at Franchise Support Centre in Petersfield in Hampshire and 233 franchisees [89 of whom are women] who employ 19,000 care assistants.
In the last few years it has harnessed technology to create innovative new ways of improving care through better communication and freeing up care assistants to spend more time with the people they care for. Bluebird Care has created a staff guide app that can connect to vital data even if there is no connectivity in some of the areas care assistants find themselves in. “In the field you cannot rely on having access to wi-fi and our policy prohibits the use of customer wi-fi in any event,” says Alex.
The app was developed in house incorporating staff forums and surveys. Alex says 75% of surveyed employees said they wanted to be able to view the staff handbook on a mobile device. Bluebird Care describe it as an “industry first”. The app was designed using different colours, formats and imagery to display information that can be read easily and found quickly through a quality search function.
The aim is to support staff and make them feel more confident that they can access the information they need speedily when they are providing care, on training or looking to refresh their knowledge. Alex’s team can monitor how the app is being used and how regularly it is consulted so they can judge how useful it is and provide user support where required. It also allows for direct feedback about the level of service received which speeds up the process of acting on that feedback, says Alex.
Technology has also been used to cut down on the paperwork associated with care work. Some 140 of the 180 franchisees are now using the PASSsystem care management platform. Its software provides near real-time care record information via a mobile phone app to care assistants and their office teams and was introduced around two years ago.
It means care assistants can consult the customer’s up-to-date care plan before a visit and can tick off on screen once they have done all that is in the plan. They can also share feedback and send a report to the office immediately after a visit. In the past, says Alex, there would be a gap between the care assistant updating the care plan and a manager checking that any changes to the care plan had been implemented in a follow-up visit. This could take up to a number of weeks. “The app speeds up the transfer of critical information between the customer and the office team so decisions can be taken instantly and changes implemented. This is important when customer needs are changing constantly,” says Alex. “It makes us more agile and responsive. The app can alert office team members to any human errors or priority issues, for instance, if part of the care plan is missed and action can be taken quickly.”
Bluebird Care is using new apps – ‘openPASS’ and in the near future ‘pillPASS’ – which it hopes will improve the flow of information between customers, families and other stakeholders such as GPs and pharmacies. Alex says: “Adopting modern and efficient processes will help set us apart.”
The franchise also provides franchisees with their own microsites with SEO support for getting up the local search engine rankings for job searches and care services. Alex describes this as “ground-breaking in franchising” given that typically control of the brand is vital in franchising and resides with the franchisor. “It is our feeling that there is a collective desire to be the best brand and not to damage it,” he says. Previously, franchisees had a static one-page website. There are now over 200 microsites. Alex says some franchisees are experienced in website management and prefer to do it all themselves, but many need help to manage content and simply want the franchise digital marketing team to run their sites.
For SEO the franchise’s marketing team are content management experts and create tailored content, including social media posts and social care news, to franchisees’ individual needs. “They have a unique knowledge of care, digital and franchising,” says Alex. They currently support 58 franchisee microsites and 27 social media accounts. The microsites have increased online visits to Bluebird Care by 11%. Head Office also provides how to documents, an intranet as well as recorded and live webinars and campaign materials such as press releases and posters.
Bluebird Care also has three national corporate websites, focused on potential customers [for instance, those needing to find a local office], franchisee recruitment and careers development. In addition, it has 12 corporate social media channels.
The switchover to a more content-driven, localised approach was preceded by discussions with franchisees, regional meetings, newsletter updates and a conference to prepare the network.
In addition to the focus on the customer and franchisee, Bluebird Care has been working on career progression for care assistants and has developed the Bluebird Care Career Journey® to enable franchisees to support and develop their staff with clear career progression pathways.
“Nearly every care provider has the same challenges around recruitment and retention,” says Alex, “and we are always looking at new ways to recruit and retain the right people. The churn rate is relatively high in this sector.” The pathway was developed with external consultants a few years ago in response to the perception that care assistants needed a better understanding of career opportunities in the care sector. “The perception is that it is all about temporary jobs, but that is because there is very little information about career progression,” says Alex. The career journey includes case studies of Bluebird Care staff who have moved from care assistant work to Head Office or management positions or have become franchisees. Alex says pay is rarely the main issue driving people out of the care sector. “It is more about communications: having more time to help people understand their role and their relationship with their employer and making people feel their work is valued,” says Alex.
Feeling appreciated is the reason Bluebird Care set up its own awards. “I wanted our winners to feel the most valued and special person on the planet. We do not do this enough,” says Alex. “There is so much negativity around the care sector. It is good to look at the heroes and heroines and to say thank you. You are brilliant at what you do. We need to take a moment to do that.” The aim of the awards ceremony is to be “an extraordinary day away from day to day life where best practice can be shared”. Alex says winners become advocates of best practice and sources of expertise and several have been featured in the media, including in international media.
Bluebird Care recognises that allied to the career pathway is a need to improve the recruitment process. It has therefore been reviewing an Applicant Tracking System which allows franchisees to measure the success of their recruitment campaigns, help target adverts more successfully and speed up the hiring process. Franchisees can also track where there might be problems in the recruitment process, for instance, during the interview process, and can identify the best recruiters and learn from them.
Alex says Bluebird Care has made a lot of progress over the last year and is looking to build on this. It will, for instance, be creating more apps for different job roles given that the staff guide app focuses mainly on the care assistant role. The franchise is also looking to develop its careers website further so it is more user friendly, for instance, first off showing care jobs in the user’s location.
He is delighted with the Workingmums’ Award and says: “The award is recognition that what you are doing is right. It’s great for morale.”