Technology in Aged Care Catering
Technology plays a vital role in any industry, especially in this ever changing world. It is one of those areas that can really enhance the service standards and help achieve efficiency in business if sourced, implemented and used correctly.
It is important to understand these three key points
Sourcing doesn’t really mean finding the right company or a well-known company and something that is popular with other aged care facilities. Sourcing really comes from first and foremost identifying the demands of your own aged care facilities. Each facility works and provides different service models from one another. Every aged care has its own catering model and serving procedures. For example, Tray service, Dining room service, separate kitchenette & dining room services, cook chill, cooked fresh etc. Each of these services have different requirements & completely different working environment. All of the above-mentioned procedures require different forms of reports or lists to work with. It may be the same information but what matters is ‘How it is displayed in the software’.
Sourcing needs to happen from ‘Bottom to the Top’. This means, it is absolutely imperative to understand the end users’ needs and requirements. There is no point in ticking all the boxes at the upper management level when the actual end users’ requirements are not met or are only partially met. The biggest ticks that is required for any software in catering is the tick from Chefs & Kitchen Assistants. At the end of the day, these are the people who is going to use the system on daily basis. In my opinion, the chefs and the kitchen assistants need to be the decision makers to filter which system is most suitable to them. Once there is enough evidence of a particular software being more popular with the staff then comes the next step of upper management to look for other factors such as reliability, affordability, quality assurance, support mechanism etc.
It is important to remember that most of the software or systems are designed to meet the general requirements of the industry so to source a system that provides flexibility to cater for all different service model is the key. However, any customisation comes at a cost. If you have multiple aged care facilities with various service model then just as a guideline, the software (without customisation) needs to be able to meet requirements of at least 80% of the business. The rest 20% can be customised.
Implementation includes IT integration, installations, staff training, data entry, resource allocation & other software integration. There are pros and cons of locally hosted system against web-based systems. In recent times, most of the systems are moving towards web-based model to avoid complicated IT integrations & installation. Web-based systems are just a “log in & use” & available at anytime, anywhere.
Software with existing systems or other care/clinical systems is a whole separate topic to discuss but I would like to share my few thoughts. One of the key criteria set by organisation is the integration with existing care system. Yes, integration & automation may provide efficiency but it also brings the massive task of bringing two software companies together to work on one project. Both companies may have completely different platforms and technologies and hence to merge them together, can be very time consuming & expensive exercise. Please note that the integration will attract additional cost from both software companies. Integration of two systems can also bring complexity on technical levels & support mechanism. If for example, something was to go wrong with the system then it will be more time consuming to just find out where the fault is coming from. There may be a fault with catering system or clinical system, there needs to be support staff from both companies working on the same problem. There is always a lot of back and forth with each company suggesting that the fault is on the other side and not to mention that if one system goes down, all systems go down.
So, is it really worth it to look for integration? Let’s take an example. Most of the clinical software in aged care holds the information about residents’ texture, allergies, fluid consistency and other particulars about their food preferences such as milk, cereals, fruits etc. The key information here that actually concerns both catering and care staff (in terms of ACFI) is texture, allergies & fluid consistency. Since most of the food preference fields are usually in a free text box form, they are very hard to be integrated with other software. So essentially, you are looking at paying the cost for the integration of three fields.
On the other side, it may be an option to have two systems separate and use the catering software as the primary source of information when it comes to resident’s dietary information. There may not be a need to write any information about residents’ diet in clinical software except texture, fluid consistency & food allergies. This will avoid any integration costs and offer more streamlined procedures & efficiency.
The most important yet very much neglected aspect of a software implementation. Let’s face it, majority of the staff in aged care catering are not so tech-savvy. A company may have implemented the best possible software for catering but if the staff are not aware of its full potential or are not using it the way it is supposed to be used then it may lead to an epic failure for both the aged care and the software company. It is the responsibility of the software company to ensure that some sort of onsite support is offered at each aged care facility once the system is up and running. I firmly believe that on site support goes a long way compare to phone support & user manuals. User manuals may only teach things that are technical but on-site support actually helps with learning of the system and how best to use it to benefit from it.
It is also the responsibility of the aged care facility to make sure the software is utilised to its full potential and staff are using it regularly and appropriately. Despite having a software that does a lot better job with a lot less efforts, some staff may still continue with their own hand-written lists on paper. There are only two possible explanations for this. Either staff are not aware of the systems potential or the system is not capable of providing right solution to the catering staff.