Last year, we did a short poll with over 200 healthcare professionals at the UK Care Show 2022. These results confirmed that a huge 93% of healthcare professionals didn’t agree that individuals in a care setting were getting quality interactions with carers. Main reasons being staff shortages and not enough time.
To explore this important topic further, we have interviewed one of our Nurse Advisors at Ontex, Louise Heelan. Louise, who frequently visits care settings across the UK to support continence care, shares below her thoughts on what quality interactions mean to her, why it’s a necessity and how to overcome possible obstacles…
Louise Heelan, one of our Nurse Advisors at Ontex
My journey in care
I began my care journey when I was 17 as an apprentice in a local nursing care home. It was brilliant as it allowed on-the-job training while completing my studies. From there, I became a registered nurse, working within several of the different acute sector settings from care of elderly wards to orthopaedics and discharge co-ordination, before joining my local CCG as part of a team implementing Continuing Care. Finally, I joined Ontex as a Nurse Advisor. As a registered nurse, I renew my nurse registration yearly and visit our customers to support the best continence care practice. After working in healthcare for over 20 years, I believe the main ingredient to good quality care is positive interactions.
Recognising and respecting
People refer to quality interactions as excellent person-centred care, but what does this really mean? When I first became a support worker, some of us were taught how to give hand and foot massages so our residents could enjoy ‘pamper sessions’. At the time, I thought this meant we were having great interactions. Being surrounded by passionate healthcare professionals, I was exposed to what was important, but I didn’t fully understand it as I do now.
What I mean is that having great interactions with a resident or patient isn’t just about doing ‘fun’ things with them, like painting their nails. It also includes making every interaction with them a positive one. It might mean that they feel physically supported when standing up when they are at risk of a fall, their preference for how strong they like their tea is recognised, or they feel like their dignity is being respected during personal care.
In particular, when a resident requires personal care support, they are in a physically and emotionally vulnerable position. As their carer, I was always focused on how to recognise what they might be feeling, and demonstrating that I respected them not only as a resident but as an individual with feelings, a wealth of life experience, and preference of how they liked to be cared for..
The impact of interactions
As I progressed in my care career from a support worker to a nurse, I began to appreciate the impact of interactions; not just with the residents and patients, but their relatives and carers too.
When we were short-staffed, I found that I couldn’t give patients the quality interactions they deserved. For example, be unable to sit with them for a few more minutes after getting them settled into bed. I saw that for the individuals, this negatively impacted their mood.
Imagine working in an office, yet nobody really spoke to you. You may begin to feel a little despondent and isolated. Then, think about a good day when people ask about you and make you feel valued. It makes the day a little bit brighter. It’s exactly the same in a healthcare setting.
Yet, purely functional interactions with patients also have a negative impact on carers. As a nurse, I entered the profession because I wanted to make a positive difference. So on the days I couldn’t, it felt like a bad day. We’re not robots, and neither are the people we look after. Because of that, I and others would often find ourselves working over our finish time to try and ensure individuals had the time and interaction they deserved. This helped with feeling good about the job I was doing, but then led to a work-life imbalance.
Supporting those in the healthcare sector
In my current role, I can go into healthcare settings and support carers with how to use our continence care products. Having first-hand experience allows me to understand the obstacles they are currently facing, which can have an impact on quality interactions.
According to our survey, 50% of those asked thought that not having enough staff is preventing quality interactions. Anecdotally, my customers have discussed that with the current staff shortages in care, there simply isn’t enough time to spend the additional time with residents that they deserve. And this makes them feel exactly the way I had done, they want to give their patients and residents better interactions.
Looking to technology
One of the possible solutions is embracing new technology for healthcare. This will never replace care worker roles but should help to reduce time spent on day-to-day tasks, which in turn allows more time for one-to-one interactions.
This could include technology for electronic patient records, water-intake monitoring, or continence care support, like our Orizon SMART offering. Our Orizon SMART is a rechargeable sensor that attaches to smart continence products and notifies where the product needs changing. As this reduces the need for physical continence checks, this frees up additional time for the carer to spend with the resident for other personal care, or to make sure the cuppa is just how they like it!
We have recently been piloting Orizon SMART across Europe and our trial results also support that looking to technology can save caregivers time, which then can then be used in spending time with patients. For example, in our recent trial in Germany, support workers saved an incredible two hours a day when using our smart solution. Imagine the positive impact this could have, especially with the current staff shortages we are seeing in the healthcare sector.
Ultimately, the majority of people go into the carer profession because they like to help others. So when unable to give the care they know they can, it can impact their mental well-being and job satisfaction. From an individual’s point of view, they look to their carer to support them both physically and emotionally to a certain aspect. Looking to technological support could be one of the ways to increase a carer’s time to spend with a resident, which is a win-win all around.
To find out more about Orizon SMART, a continence solution created by Ontex, please click here.
 Between 9.9% and 36.1% of the population over 60 years of age is reported to suffer from incontinence. WHO study on incontinence, 2017, page 1, retrieved on May 10th, 2021 https://www.source-website.info/0001
 UN report on ageing population, 2017, page 1 https://www.source-website.info/0002
 UN population report, 2015, page 9, retrieved May 10, 2021 https://www.info-document.pdf/0003