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Get ready for special-purpose software.

Over the past decade and a half, the personal computer has gone from being a tool in search of a purpose to becoming the Swiss army knife of management. During that period, a major trend has been the development of software for evermore specific usage. Finally, that specificity of purpose is being directed at nursing homes.

Until recently, long-term care, like other slow-to-computerize health care industries, has been faced with two basic types of software: clinical and financial. Programs for specialized management activities, such as physical plant management, were designed to be used in nearly every business environment but nursing homes. Now, a new category of software that is both industry and use-specific is entering the nursing home market. These programs offer assistance with everything from staff scheduling to communicating policies and procedures. The examples that follow are only indicative of software beginning to appear on the market. We do not endorse, nor have we tested, the programs, and there are, of course, competing products.

Depending on the size of an institution, staff scheduling can be a minor headache or a full-fledged nightmare. This spring, Atlas Business Solutions, Inc. (800/874-8801) began offering "Visual Staff Scheduler" in Windows, Windows 95 and Windows NT versions. This program is designed with nursing homes and other health care businesses in mind. It computerizes the process of staff scheduling, and can track people by position, shift and location. Shift start/end times and many other aspects of the program can be customized, and up to 42 days of information can be displayed. The program comes in a single-user and an up to 20-user version. And any good scheduler can be set up to include non-employee groups, such as volunteers.

Security is always an issue, and Kronos Incorporated (800/225-1561,x841) has a Windows-based product, Gatekeeper Central, that while designed for nearly any industry, should adapt well to nursing home use. The idea is to automate the process of limiting access to specific areas of a facility. System operators use Gatekeeper Central to create fists of persons allowed access to an area and then download a particular list to an individual Gatekeeper terminal. Personnel can be granted one of three levels of access: none, full or scheduled. To gain access, employees swipe bar-coded badges through the terminal or through remote readers. Moreover, gatekeeping systems such as this one generate a variety of reports detailing the who and when of access to rooms, locked medication cabinets and offices. Some of these programs even tie in to staff scheduling and timekeeping, eliminating the need for an old-fashioned time clock.

One product aimed at maintenance management in health care environments is MPulse from Spec Tech, L.L.C. (800/556-9852). This Windows-based program is designed to standardize maintenance procedures in an effort to increase equipment, vehicle and facility longevity, thereby reducing the nursing home's cost of maintenance. It comes in single-user and network versions and just reached the market this summer. Maintenance history is maintained on the computer and work orders and reports can be generated at any time. The program is more than a simple computerized maintenance reminder calendar. Computerized drawings of equipment and buildings can be linked to a task, along with safety instructions. just as a personal information manager can simplify and clarify an individual's schedule, programs like MPulse can replace shelves of notebooks, walls fun of Post-It tickler notes and rolls of blueprints as key tools of the maintenance manager. Daily, weekly and monthly maintenance schedules can be pulled up on-screen and printed out at a moment's notice.

If there were ever an environment that has a need for clear communication of policies and procedures, it is the nursing home. COMPROSE, Inc. (800/348-8211) offers a program, ProcedureWRITE, in network and single-user Windows versions, that it boasts will let "...anyone create effective procedures fast, no matter how busy you are, how badly you type, or how much you hated English class in school." While ProcedureWRITE is not a nursing home-specific piece of software, it is marketed to health care providers. The program guides users through the steps to create a procedure by combining lists of frequently used descriptions with flexible data fields. Once a procedure has been detailed and categorized, an automatic report generator produces a professional-looking document. This software is one of a number of similar programs aimed at letting administrators, managers and specialists "write" clear prose for specific purposes without necessarily having to be skilled writers themselves.

Software and computers are just beginning to show the promise they hold for nursing homes and the long-term care industry in general. To take advantage of that promise, you need to be flexible and willing to change how work is done. Staff scheduling may be easily seen as a potential computer operation. The same is probably true of managing a maintenance schedule. It takes a little more imagination to see how a computer can improve security, and the computer as procedure writer is a stretch further down the road. But that's a road that can't be traveled unless you are willing to look at old ways of doing things in a new light.

Sort of like what you had to do with the MDS.
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Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:for long-term health care
Author:Patterson, David
Publication:Nursing Homes
Date:Oct 1, 1996
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