Homecare Agencies: Management and Scheduling Troubles?

In the past, I’ve told you about software like KeePass , the Oprea Browser, and Skype; software that offers some useful benefits for Seniors and their Caregivers. Today, I thought I’d mention a piece of software that I’ve been hearing goods things about that’s geared towards professional Homecare Agencies .

First, two quick disclaimers: 1) Elder Depot wasn’t put up to this, the only reason we’re promoting this software is that we’ve been hearing good things about it and because it strikes us as pretty useful. 2) As a supplier of Eldercare Products, Elder Depot does business with a lot of Homecare Agencies but we’re not a Homecare Agency and we haven’t actually used this software. So, Caveat Emptor.

Running any business can be a complicated headache at times, that’s all the more true for Home Care Agencies that face challenges like strict legal requirements, a need for accurate scheduling, and the difficulty of managing staff at a distance. My wife works at an Adult Day Program that tackles many of these problems by juggling several computer programs, mapping and remapping the weekly schedule on a giant dry-erase board, and making heavy use of cellphones. That kind of solution works… It even works well. But there’s something appealing about what is by most accounts an intuitive, easy-to-use, and integrated software package that does the same and more.

HomeTrak is a piece of software designed specifically to meet the management, scheduling, and legal needs of Home Care Agencies.

http://www.hometrak.com/

Judging from their website, the four words that guide HomeTrek’s design are Schedule, Manage, Serve, & Grow. At it core, the software is designed to get jobs scheduled, that sounds simple but it can be complicated. HomeTrak simplifies the process by providing detail and up-to-date information on clients and caregivers, while keeping track of referrers.

I thought the emphasis on integrated referral management was pretty insightful. The HomeTrak website breaks that down into the following benefits.

  • Keep track of anyone or any business that is sending clients and caregivers to your organization.
  • How many new referrals did you receive yesterday?
  • How many new clients did you receive yesterday?
  • How long is it taking to turn potential clients into active clients?
  • Information from the referral module can be used to make educated marketing decisions.

HomeTrak offers the following benefits in regards to clients. I thought it was particularly useful that it tracks changes to a client’s records – what an improvement over paper files, where you’d have to do detective work to track down who to ask about a change.

  • Tracks required dates specific to each client.
  • Allows for a permanent schedule and visit plan.
  • Records all the skills required to accommodate a client’s needs.
  • Connects external documents to each client for easy reference.
  • Tracks changes made to a client’s records, including information changed, who changed the information, and when it was changed.
  • Imports and exports demographic information with other contact management and accounting software.
  • Manages referral sources and contacts through the Referral Management System.

Staff Management is pretty straightforward but with enough detail. I like how it integrates skill-sets that it can then compare to Client needs.

  • Stores caregiver photographs.
  • Multiple options available for pay rates.
  • Connects external documents to each caregiver for easy reference.
  • Allows viewing of all clients that the caregiver is currently assigned to visit.
  • Allows viewing of all changes made to a caregiver’s record, including information changed, who changed the information, and when it was changed.
  • Allows creation of user-defined skills, user-defined locations and user-defined compliance data.

Scheduling. That’s what caught my interest when I first heard of HomeTrak. There are so many features here that I thought were so useful. In particular, I like the automation that saves management staff so much legwork and how the software keeps Client family members in the loop.

  • Automatic alerts to open schedules and caregiver overlaps.
  • Suggests caregivers best suited to care for clients based on user defined parameters.
  • Only matches available caregivers that meet the client’s request.
  • Client and caregiver information is visible side-by-side for a better match.
  • Eliminates double scheduling of shifts.
  • Notifies scheduler when a caregiver might go into overtime.
  • Invoicing and payroll are based on a confirmed schedule, thus eliminating errors in client billings and caregiver pay.
  • Single entry of duplicated data eliminates human errors.
  • Information is archived for later retrieval as needed.
  • Saves time and money by e-mailing schedules and other pertinent information directly from the schedule module to caregivers, clients and their families.
  • Provides integrated directions to client homes using an interface to Google Maps, an extraordinary new concept that allows viewing of maps to the client’s home and viewing driving routes between schedules.

As if all of that weren’t enough, HomeTrak also manages finances including Payroll and Billing.

  • Calculates payroll for any time period.
  • Calculates payroll for all caregiver groups or a single group.
  • Make minor adjustments to calculated payroll.
  • Easily creates payroll reports for both active and posted payroll periods.
  • Exports payroll to QuickBooks timecards.
  • Moves payroll information to the sales history system, so you can view profit and loss by type of work performed, clients visited, or payers.
  • Calculates billing for any time period.
  • Calculates billing for all client groups or a single group.
  • Produces an invoice that can include your company logo, and/or a tear-off remittance section.
  • Creates billing reports for both active and posted billing periods.
  • Sends invoices to QuickBooks accounting after created.
  • Capable of billing for holidays by individual client.
  • Allows correction of posted billing.
  • Easily creates invoices between normal runs for estate payment.
  • Capable of billing for mileage, errand mileage and expenses.

Quick and easy-to-generate reports have become an industry standard… But it’s nice to see them here.

  • Easily generate, display and print reports.
  • Choose the report or options that you want.
  • Quickly find the information that you need.
  • Create professional looking caregiver name badges.
  • Simple to generate mailing labels or envelopes for clients, payers or caregivers.

Management by…Telephony? I thought this was amazing and it saves management so many hassles.

  • Eliminate paper time sheets for good!
  • Client is no longer required to sign timesheets thereby avoiding potential conflicts
  • Significantly streamline payroll and invoicing
  • No additional phone lines or hardware required
  • Disciplines caregivers to show up on time and work for the authorized period
  • Provides management with a unique and powerful caregiver management tool

So… Maybe now you understand why I was impressed? I’m not alone, it seems like more and more Home Care agencies are switching over. I can’t say if HomeTrak is as good as it’s features or reputation make it out to be…but I think it’s one of the best examples of modern information technology put to a practical use that I’ve seen in a long time.

Keep in touch over the holidays!

You might remember me recommending Skype as a great free software gift back on Father’s Day. It’s a practical, innovative, and easy-to-use way to keep in touch with family.

Skype is a free computer program that will allow your family to do something that was once considered the stuff of science fiction. Like the Jetsons, you can keep in touch with loved ones through video conference technology that will allow family to see faces while hearing words. It is a powerful tool to help fight against feelings of isolation and abandonment.

Skype works by transmitting voice and video signals over the Internet. Skype to Skype calls are provided as a free service. Skype is also capable of making calls to normal phone lines though this service has a small fee.

All that Skype requires is a Computer of average capacity, an external microphone, and a broadband Internet connection. A webcamera is needed for video chatting but it’s not required as Skype can be used just for audio. Check it out at…

http://www.skype.com/

Skype is a great tool but it’s not right for every person or every situation. We want to help families keep in touch over the holidays and that’s why for the rest of December 2010 Elder Depot is offering 5% off our full stock of Senior Friendly Telephones. Just enter the coupon code: 5offPhones

Fraud Alert! Take a closer look at those Phone Bills!

Take a closer look at those phone bills friends! A few months ago we noticed that a mysterious charge for ‘Vmail’ had appeared on the phone bill for one of fax lines. Our phone company had just switched us from paper to email billing so we almost missed the $14.95 charge hidden near the bottom of the bill. Fortunately we run a tight ship so the charge didn’t slip past us and we looked into the charge. What we found was disturbing; a nationwide cramming scam, phone companies hindering customer’s attempts to remove the charge, and a flawed telecommunications law making the whole mess possible.

Cramming’ is a scam where a company adds a charge to a phone bill for a service that was not requested, agreed to, or used. In our case, the charge was for a voice mail service on one of our fax lines –a service we never asked for, never agreed to, and which we could never use because it doesn’t actually exist. That’s right, even if we had wanted to use ‘Vmail’ we couldn’t because it doesn’t exist.

It took over five hours just to sort out things out with our phone company. We had a long run around through the automated system and from ‘wrong’ department to ‘wrong’ department. When we did speak to real people we got another kind of run around; they insisted that we had signed up for the service and when we insisted on having the charge removed we were transferred. Finally, we demanded to speak to a manager and got the answers we needed in less than ten minutes.

What we learned is that, legally, because of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, phone companies have to include charges from other companies in their bills unless the customer contacts them requesting a block of all third party billing. There is no selective screening, the 1996 law prevents phone companies from ‘discriminating’ against any companies which place charges. Our phone company could have saved us a lot of time and frustration by giving us this information from the start, it was terrible customer service on their part and completely unacceptable. But, otherwise, their hands are legally tied when it comes to this kind of scam. They are required by law to accept third party charges and have no legal means of verifying that their customer requested the services in question. Aside from the quality of their customer service, there is no difference between Qwest, Verizon, AT&T, Embarq, or any other national phone company when it comes to this scam.

How to prevent Cramming.

  • Call the phone company in question and demand that they block all third party billing on the account.  Sometimes phone company representatives try to talk customers out of the block but insist even if they say its not possible.
  • Carefully check every phone bill – act immediately if a new or unknown charge appears.

How to resolve Cramming.

  • Contact your phone company immediately and tell them that you did not authorize the charges and ask for the charges to be removed. Your phone company does have the authority to remove the charges but will often require* you to try to resolve the issue with the company that placed the charge.
  • Call the company that placed the charge and inform them that you did not request the services. Tell them that you would like to know who authorized the services and ask for a copy of the authorization information. Companies have been known to request more personal information, such as social security numbers, do not give them more personal information than they already have.
  • Ask that all charges be removed. If the company refuses or never responds, get back in  touch with the phone company. Tell them that you could not resolve the charges with the company in question and tell them that you did not authorize the disputed charges. Ask the phone company to remove all charges. Be insistent, even if they say they can’t – they can. Talk to more than one person if you need to.

Things to remember!

  • Customers are not legally obligated to pay charges on their telephone bills for services that they have not ordered or authorized others to order for them.
  • Telephone services cannot be disconnected because a customer refuses to pay a charge from a third party. Threats of phone lines being disconnected are legally empty.
  • Crammers sometimes hire legitimate collection agencies to collect the charges ‘owed’ to them. This can be very damaging to credit ratings and should be addressed immediately. Explain the situation to the collection agency and, if that resolves nothing, either pay the ‘charges’ or get legal aid.

We submitted complaints to the Federal Trade Commission, Federal Communications Commission, the Pennsylvania Attorney General (check the map on this page to find your state’s), and the Better Business Bureau. Little can be done to stop this kind of scam on a national level but several states, including New York and Florida, are taking action to prevent cramming. Get your State to join them in taking steps to outlaw cramming; send letters to your elected officials letting them know that you’re sick of this scam!

Read more information on Cramming from the Federal Trade Commission.

Telephone Options for the Deaf

The following is an excerpt from HearingTelephones.com, an informative site sponsored by Elder Depot. Much more information is available on the site including guides on Digital Vs. Analog, Bacteria on Phones, Cellular Phones, and much more.

For the Deaf, those with Profound Hearing Loss, and those with Speech Impairment there are alternative options to the standard Telephone, the most prevalent being the TeleTYpewriter (TTY).

TeleTypewriter

Through a TTY a conversation can be partially or completely typed rather than spoken. TTY can only communicate directly with phone lines equipped with similar devices but a Telecommunications Relay Service is available to act as an intermediary allowing TTY users to contact to non-TTY Telephones. Teletypewriters do not require special Telephone equipment or installation.

Telecommunications Relay Service

Telecommunications Relay Services provide a number of services to users of TTYs by offering the intermediary aid of a Communications Assistant. Generally, Telecommunications Relay Services are available 24 hours a day with no restriction on length or number of calls placed. Telecommunication Relay Services are provided by State, to find your state’s toll-free TSR number check the Telecommunications Relay Services Directory.

Communication Assistant

Telecommunications Relay Services are operated in a similar way to live Television Captioning Services. A Communications Assistant (also known as a Relay Operator) transcribes or vocalizes information as necessary. All relay calls are strictly confidential under penalty of federal law.

TTY to Voice/Voice to TTY

The standard TRS is TTY to Voice/Voice to TTY calls. Often labeled Voice, these are calls between a person using a TTY and a person using a normal Telephone. In this type of call, the Communication Assistant relays typed messages as voice messages and voice messages back as typed messages. Using this method the TTY user only sends and receives text.

It is standard to type “GA” or say “Go Ahead” to indicate when outgoing communication ceases; this helps to prevent interruption from confusing the Communication Assistant. “SK” is code for “Stop Keying” which indicates to the Communications Assistant that the call is ended and that they should hang up.

Voice and Hearing Carry Over

A common TRS is Voice Carry Over (VCO). VCO is a call between a person using a TTY who can speak and a person using a normal Telephone. In this type of call, the TTY Caller uses their own voice and Communication Assistant relays the normal Telephone user’s words as text.

  • Call State TRS Number on TTY…
  • Communications Assistant: [Text] State Relay, Agent ED. What number would you like to dial? GA
  • TTY Caller: [Voice] Please dial ###-#### Go Ahead
  • Communications Assistant: [Text] Dialing local call, ringing… 1…2…3…
  • Standard Telephone User: [Voice] Hello?
  • Communications Assistant: [Text] Hello? GA
  • TTY Caller: [Voice] Johnnie is that you? This is Jerrold. Go Ahead.
  • Standard Telephone User: [Voice] Jerrold, where are you? You were suppose to get here hours ago!
  • Communications Assistant: [Text] Jerrold, where are you? You were suppose to get here hours ago! GA
  • TTY Caller: [Voice] My car won’t start, I don’t think I can make it. Go Ahead.
  • Standard Telephone User: [Voice] That’s terrible. Do you want one of us to come get you?
  • Communications Assistant: [Text] That’s terrible. Do you want one of us to come get you? GA
  • TTY Caller: [Voice] That would be great! If it’s not too much trouble. Go Ahead.
  • Standard Telephone User: [Voice] No trouble at all, see you soon!
  • Communications Assistant: [Text] No trouble at all, see you soon! GA
  • TTY Caller: [Voice] Thanks, you’re a good friend! See you soon.
  • TTY Caller: [Text] SK
  • Call ended.

A less used TRS is Hearing Carry Over (HCO). HCO is designed for people with Speech Disabilities. HCO is a call between a person using a TTY who cannot speak understandably to use their own hearing while the Communication Assistant relays the TTY users text as users to the user of the normal Telephone.

What is an Amplified Telephone?

The following is an excerpt from HearingTelephones.com, an informative site sponsored by Elder Depot. Much more information is available on the site including guides on Digital Vs. Analog, Bacteria on Phones, Cellular Phones, and much more.

What is an Amplified Telephone?

An Amplified Telephone is one that is specially designed to make Sound more ‘Hearable’. Most Basic Amplification increases the Volume or Loudness of Sound. More Advanced Amplification modifies Tone and filters out Background Noise.

Outgoing Sound Amplification?

Most Amplified Telephones only augment Incoming Sound to help the Hard of Hearing but Outgoing Sound Amplified Telephones are also available to help those with soft voices.

Speech Amplified Phone +26dB
XL30 Amplified Phone +15dB
AMPLI500 +12dB
AMPLI600 +12dB
Professional XL45 +15dB
CSC600 +12dB
HD-40S +18dB
Speech Amplified Handset +26dB

How loud is a Decibel?

The reason this question often goes unanswered is complicated and involves logarithmic equations. Skipping the mathematical details, the reason that we can only answer this question with approximations is because every person hears differently and every Sound is unique.

Approximate Decibel ‘Loudness’
0dB The Softest Sound any Human Ear can Hear.
5dB – 15dB Gentle Breeze
15dB – 30dB Whispered Conversation
30dB – 40dB Quiet Country Home
40dB – 50dB Quiet City Home
50dB – 70dB Normal Conversation
70dB – 90dB Times Square, New York at Noon
75dB – 90dB Typical Automobile Assembly Line
90dB – 100dB Riding a Power Lawn Mower
90dB – 100dB Sitting in the Front Row of Full Orchestra
playing William Tell Overture.
110db – 115dB Thunder, from less than a Mile
115dB – 130dB Sitting in the Front Row of a Metallica concert.
120dB – 130dB Sound begins to cause Physical Pain.
This point varies depending on the frequencies a person can hear.
130dB-150dB Jet Engine at Full Throttle from a few Yards.

Decibels, Amplification, and Loudness.

Roughly, the Loudness of a Sound is Doubled with each increase of 10dB. This means that the Loudness of a Sound increases exponentially along the Decibel scale; +10dB would be approximately Twice as Loud, +20dB would be approximately Four Times as Loud, +30dB would be approximately Eight Times as Loud, +40dB would be approximately Sixteen Times as Loud, +50dB would be approximately Thirty-Two Times as Loud, and so on.

The goal of most Amplification is to increase Normal Conversation (50dB to 70dB) to a Loudness that can be heard by the Hard of Hearing. Amplification of 12-26dB usually suffices for Mild Hearing Loss, 30-40dB usually suffices for Moderate Hearing Loss, and 43-67dB usually suffices for Severe Hearing Loss.

Degrees of Hearing Loss
Mild Hearing Loss Moderate Hearing Loss Severe Hearing Loss
Cannot hear Soft Sounds.
May mishear Spoken Words.
Background Noise sometimes drowns out Speech.
Cannot hear Normal Sounds.
Often mishears Spoken Words.
Background Noise often drowns out Speech.
Only Loud Sounds can be heard.
Cannot understand Spoken Words.
12-26dB Amplification 30-40dB Amplification 43-67dB Amplification

Advanced Amplification Technology

Digital Clarity Power ™

Certain Clarity Amplified Telephones feature Digital Signal Processing technology that was first used in hearing aids in 1987 and has since become the industry standard. Clarity was the first to incorporate this patented technology into Amplified Telephones.

Digital Clarity Power™ uses Multiband Compression to determine which incoming sounds are the Human Voice and provide more amplification to those sounds while suppressing background noise. It also features Acoustic Noise Cancellation to reduce echoing, Noise Reduction to filter out static, and Voice Clarity to clarify outgoing sound as well as incoming.

High-Definition Sound (HDS)

Certain Serene Innovation Amplified Telephones feature High-Definition Sound technology.

Ergonomic sound™

Certain Doro Amplified Telephones feature Ergonomic sound™ technology to enhance clarity by managing tone.

UltraClear™ and ClearDigital™

Certain ClearSounds Amplified Telephones feature UltraClear™ tone management technology and others feature ClearDigital™ Full Digital Power technology.

Telephone Amplifier Units

Amplifier Units that connect to standard Telephones are also available, allowing one to continue using their old phone while still receiving the benefits of amplification.

Hearing Aid Compatible

Many Amplified Telephones are Hearing Aid Compatible. Some are also Telecoil (T-coil) compatible allowing them to be directly connected to many hearing aids; this further helps to filter out background noise.