One important area of developing a care plan for a person is recognising family members or significant others in their lives who are either providing direct care and support to the person, or who are actively interested in ensuring the person gets the best care to meet their needs. Even where a person moves into residential care, their family often still wish to participate in some way.
Sometimes family members can feel their input is not welcomed, is seen as invalid, or that it may not be appreciated by health professionals or the service provider.
As service providers, we have a responsibility to invite family members to participate in care planning for their loved ones, and attending care conference meetings is often a good way of encouraging this.
So what’s involved?
A care or ‘case’ conference is usually a formal and structured meeting that involves discussion and review of a person’s current health status, care needs and goals.
It is current best practice to call these formal meetings care conferences as the individuals involved often have an aversion to being viewed as a ‘case’. Of course, the reason for the gathering of minds and skills is to help plan appropriate care to meet the stated goals of the person and ensure quality outcomes.
It’s great that we are seeing more organisations recognising the value of including family and significant others in developing a person’s care and support plans. It means that as providers we are often getting a better picture of the complete person and start to understand the little things that can make a big difference to them.
Family may have insight into behaviours, triggers and strategies that staff may not be aware of, which can assist in improving outcomes for the person. A care conference provides a medium where the service provider can proactively discuss issues and use the collective knowledge of the gathering to problem solve. Family feel more connected and invested in the care their loved one is receiving and more engaged with the care and support system, leading to a better relationship between them and care staff.
But care conferencing is not just about including family members in the planning of support. Often we need to consider other stakeholders who can provide valuable input.
One aim of care conferencing is to provide person-centred care in a holistic and coordinated way to avoid duplication of services and minimise the possibility of errors in care delivery. Where a person has services delivered by a number of service providers, including their GP, allied health professionals or other aged care providers, it is a sensible step to work together collaboratively to ensure the best outcome for the consumer.
Holding a care conference with all relevant stakeholders helps each service provider or professional to know what each other is doing. This not only minimises the chance of doubling up on services, but can make more effective use of funds and supports. It also lessens the chance of one provider inadvertently working against the service delivery aims of another provider and compromising the consumer goals, needs and preferences.
So how do you hold a good care conference?
Here are some tips to help.
- Set expectations, let people know what a care conference is for, what topics will be discussed, and how it helps with developing quality care.
- Where the care conference is more general, encourage participants to have a list of goals and any issues that they wish to discuss.
- Provide a brief agenda or outline so participants have an understanding of the purpose of the meeting, key discussion points (where identified), and who will be participating.
- Define limits to the care conference, what topics will not be discussed at this particular conference – for example, this is not the time to raise general complaints if the issue is about developing an advanced care directive for a person.
- Set a time limit to the meeting. Family members or health professionals are more likely to commit to attending a care conference if they know the time commitment involved.
- Where family members and identified supports do not live locally, suggest including them in the case conference via phone or video link up. There are a variety of apps that can be downloaded onto smart phones, as well as Skype or other applications on tablets or computers that can be used to include the person into the meeting.
- Include time for people to talk up, particularly where there are participants who have a disability or condition that impacts on their ability to form sentences, or their cognition and understanding.
- Some Indigenous people or people who have English as a second language may not feel comfortable in a group of others that they are not familiar with, so it is important to make them feel at ease.
- Review the consumer’s goals and any concerns they may have and what they would like to see happen.
- Document minutes of the meeting and any outcomes or further actions that are required. The record form should also document any actions, who will be responsible for those, and any related timeframes.
- Where a follow up meeting needs to be set, discuss options and a date that will suit participants.
Care conferencing provides a platform for effective and consistent communication between stakeholders and individual consumers of care and their family. By ensuring that care conferences are well organised and well facilitated, consumer care plans and service delivery will remain relevant and consumer outcomes are more likely to be attained.
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