I have a confession to make: you see, I have been fascinated with this thing we label as ‘communication’ or more specifically ‘messaging’ for a long time, probably because I have personally struggled in getting it right, and I know how critical good communication is. I also know I’m not alone, and that many Aged Care providers find it challenging to communicate appropriately and consistently with clients and other stakeholders.

With this in mind I want to take a look at:

  • why good messaging is important and how this helps you and your team deliver a great service
  • why you need to know who your stakeholders are and what you need to communicate to them
  • why this is even more important NOW in aged care

So why is ‘messaging’ and communication SO important for Aged Care?

Well there are lots of reasons, but perhaps the most important two reasons when it comes to your clients/residents/consumers are:

  1. To ensure that the care or service you provide is done well and meets their needs, goals and preferences. They must be a partner in assessment, planning and care delivery in order to get the care and services that are right for them.
  2. For open engagement and connection. This reduces the risk of misunderstanding, incidents and complaints, and helps people to feel and be safe.

If you and your team do this well, then you are in a much better position to provide quality and meaningful care, and have a viable service that people want to come to, and staff want to work in.

Bottom line is – you can’t just expect people to know what your service does and how they connect with you if you have poor or no communication. That’s why it’s also helpful to know who you need to be talking to, what you need to be saying, and how to engage with them.

Communication also needs to be front of mind, because when things go wrong it’s often due to miscommunication, or poor understanding and not engaging with the relevant stakeholder. This results in negative outcomes.

Who are your stakeholders and why are they important?

When we work with providers as part of a service development project, one of the first things we do is map out:

  • who their stakeholders are
  • why they are important
  • what’s important to them (the stakeholders)

This activity helps the provider gain clarity about the links they have and who they need to communicate with. it also assists in identifying how that particular group interacts with and is important to their service. Then we can work out the what, the how, and the why.

If you want to put a fancy label on it, you can call it a Communication and Engagement Map or plan, although I know that some people will baulk at the thought of ‘not another plan’! But don’t get too hung up on this, what is important is that you understand who and where your organisational connections are and how best to connect with them, this way you won’t miss out on communicating effectively with your stakeholders.

The important thing to remember is the process of identifying your stakeholders and communication options is just as important as the plan or document you get at the other end.

But first, you need to understand who your stakeholders are, why they are important, and what key messages you need to convey to them or inform them about and why.

In this example, I’ll focus on external stakeholders, but it’s important to understand you also have internal stakeholders, like your staff/team and your governing body. They should also be a key part of your communication and engagement strategy.

Let me give you an example in terms of the most important external stakeholder in the context of process mapping: your clients/residents/consumers.

An illustrated image of two indigenous women sitting down with the words: "Your clients are your most important external stakeholders."

Why are they important?

  • They are the reason the service exists
  • There is an expectation and legal requirement by the funding and regulatory bodies to provide specific information to them
  • They have the right to be informed as a user of your service
  • Service delivery is enhanced/runs smoother when consumers are informed and this results in better care

What do we need to inform them about?

  • Their rights and responsibilities
  • The care and services you will provide
  • Health and safety
  • How they can provide feedback, or make a complaint if something is being done well, or not well, so that any issues can be rectified and the consumer gets the outcome they are looking for: quality care

How and Why do we need to engage with them?

There are many ways to do the ‘how,’ and the methods that are appropriate for your consumers depend on a range of factors, like where you are and what type of service you provide (for example, home care or residential care). Here’s a few key examples:

  • Staff are a key conduit and have the most face-to-face time with consumers
  • The initial assessment and care planning process and subsequent care plan reviews
  • Seeking regular feedback and not just an annual survey basis. This can be informal, or formal and sometimes linked to a specific event or change, e.g. COVID and lockdowns
  • Newsletters can be a good medium, but again it’s important to know who you are writing for and how they like to get information and what they want to know about (what’s important to them)
  • Resident and family meetings
  • Community/consumer groups – this could be a carers group and you may have a BBQ or morning tea three or four times a year
  • Facebook or other social media platform – can be a public or closed group
  • Notices and display boards at your service
  • Website – this is generally a one way mechanism, but you can have a feedback or contact link and some people may use this, rather than paper forms
  • Email and letters (mail)
  • Events, such as harmony day, NAIDOC, ANZAC day, Easter, etc
  • Internal messaging – some care homes have their own TV channels

If the ‘consumer’ is not engaged, they are less likely to understand what it is that you can offer and why they should come to you (or stay with you) for services and support.

It’s also important to be clear that this is about them, and they and their representatives are active partners in their care. This is the essence of Aged Care Standard 2: “I am a partner in ongoing assessment and planning that helps me get the care and services I need for my health and wellbeing.”

Other key external stakeholders you likely need to map a communication process for and work out your key messages to them may include:

  • Allied health providers
  • Suppliers
  • Volunteers
  • Training providers
  • Peak agencies
  • External agencies, like ACAT, local hospital, General practitioners
  • Funding bodies

If you haven’t worked this through, you can apply the example for consumers and repeat the steps to get clear about the why, the what and the how.

Why is this even more important NOW in aged care?

It’s no surprise that another ‘landmark’ moment has occurred on our Aged Care Roadmap.  

The final report of the Aged Care Royal Commission into Aged Care has now been released.

So when you are digesting the recommendations and ensuing changes, some of which may happen this year and some that will take longer, be clear about:

  • what the changes are
  • what this means for your respective stakeholders and why
  • how any change impacts on them and your organisation
  • for your consumers, what you are going to do to help them be informed of relevant things that directly impact on their care

I hope this has been helpful and if anyone needs help with communication and engagement mapping, or perhaps you just want to check that the messaging and mediums, like websites, media and resources are hitting the mark, contact us and we’d be happy to talk with you about how to get the assistance you need.

If you have a subscription to the CDCS Resource Hub you’ll find a template for a Communication Plan under the Management Planning Tools section.

If you can think of someone else who might benefit from this article, send them a link. We’d appreciate it! And if you’re looking for more helpful resources, why not check out our Resource Hub? We have culturally appropriate, tailored resources that are designed to make your job simpler and help you provide quality care to your clients. Click here to find out more.

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Donna