Not long ago, most healthcare organizations believed that their visitor management system was sufficient for their needs. In fact, in a 2018 International Association for Healthcare Security and Safety Foundation survey, 43% of hospitals said they didn’t require visitors to sign in or register upon entering the facility. Of the 57% that did require registration, only one-third of hospitals said they checked visitors’ names to confirm they were allowed to visit the patient. Visitor management issues were not a top priority for the majority of healthcare organizations.
When COVID-19 hit the U.S. in 2020, organizations quickly realized they were not prepared to safely and effectively manage visitors during a pandemic. But there was a silver lining: the pandemic underscored the value of successful visitor management. Google Trends showed a dramatic increase in searches for “visitor management policy.”
Visitor management programs allow organizations to adjust their visitor management policies quickly and effectively and avoid common visitor management issues. But with so many available options, identifying the right program for your organization’s needs can be challenging. In this article, we’ll:
- Define five key components of successful visitor management
- Explain the ways a good visitor management program can benefit your organization
- Discuss the need for technology to strike a balance between patient satisfaction and safety
1. Open visitation
Studies have shown that open visitation at hospitals or long-term care (LTC) facilities can improve patient outcomes and increase patient satisfaction, with little to no increase in security incidents and minimal disruption to facility operations.
If the benefits of open visitation weren’t clear pre-pandemic, they are now: COVID-related visitation restrictions in LTC facilities led to prolonged periods of isolation for facility residents. The negative impact on residents’ physical and mental health was so significant that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a new guidance encouraging LTC facilities to relax visitation restrictions.
A successful visitor management program can lead to improved patient outcomes and higher patient satisfaction, and some studies indicate that patients and their families also have an improved perception of having their needs met. With the right visitor management software, your organization can strike the right balance between satisfaction and safety for patients and their loved ones.
2. Safety & security
The security of your facility and the safety of your patients and employees are another key indicator of a successful visitor management policy. A sound visitor management program should be able to quickly and easily identify potential security threats with minimal risk to patients and employees.
It's essential for your visitor management program to be able to account for the variety of risks visitors can potentially pose to a facility. For example, in LTC facilities or hospitals serving high-risk populations, visitors who are not current on their vaccinations can introduce communicable diseases to vulnerable patients.
Effective visitor management software involves, for example, confirming individuals’ identification, capturing a photo, and compiling other relevant information about them that could impact the individual’s visit or the organization as a whole. Advanced technology can help create safety systems to address these visitor management issues and provide a more secure environment for patients, employees, and visitors.
Visitor management policies should be applied consistently across an organization, yet still offer enough flexibility to adjust to each facility’s specific needs. A successful visitor management program will minimize the potential for human error and reduce the number of patient and employee safety incidents.
3. Reporting & insights
Successful visitor management can help maximize efficiency and productivity—not just in terms of visitation, but in your facility’s overall operations as well.
An effective visitor management program will offer in-depth reporting and actionable insights that can be used to identify:
- Peak visitation hours
- Average visit length
- Traffic by department
- Frequent guests and hosts
Leveraging this data can help healthcare organizations efficiently allocate resources and staff and identify any visitor management issues. Consider this example: if visitor traffic is adversely affecting facility operations during peak periods, adjustments can be made quickly to keep the facility running as efficiently as possible by allocating more staff to the affected department or putting restrictions on visitors during peak hours.
Reporting can be customized to identify the most common reasons visitors are denied entry, which allows your organization to address the issue either internally through additional employee training or externally through visitor education. If the reporting shows a significant number of visitors being denied entry for not following the facility’s disease-prevention guidelines, the facility can focus on making visitors aware of the guidelines before their arrival.
Minimizing disruptions caused by visitors allows staff and providers to focus on delivering the best possible quality of care to their patients.
4. Check-in process & procedures
Visitor satisfaction is an important consideration for healthcare facilities, and an effective visitor management program can help improve the visitor experience and ensure that the check-in process is simple, fast, and consistent for all visitors. Doing so reduces overcrowding in the facility’s lobby area, which was especially dangerous during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A faster check-in process can encourage more visitors to follow check-in procedures. Visiting a loved one or friend in a hospital or LTC facility is often a stressful experience, and a needlessly complex or inconsistent check-in process can create more stress and increase the odds of a security issue. An effective visitor management program should store relevant information—such as driver’s license information—to speed up the check-in process where possible.
An effective visitor management program should also offer additional layers of security where necessary, such as employing security guards, host notification, requiring a password or visitor pass, or maintaining a list of approved visitors to ensure only those authorized are able to gain access to a patient. Not only does this feature help protect patients, but it reassures the patient’s family members that their loved one is safe and secure.
5. Continuity & organizational agility
A visitor management program is only as effective as its users. Even the most meticulously designed and carefully managed program will struggle to deliver organizational change if it's not adopted or is used incorrectly by staff. If the program is properly rolled out, staff members should be able to navigate it quickly and consistently.
This continuity gives facilities greater staffing flexibility. Having a front desk staff member who knows the facility’s visitation policies inside and out is great, but if they are absent, another staff member should be able to cover the front desk without issue. A successful visitor management program should make it easy to establish facility-wide policies and should ensure that those policies are consistently followed by staff. Such standardization is key to effectiveness and incident prevention.
As we’ve learned from the pandemic, it’s especially important to be able to customize your visitor management program in response to changing regulations and visitor management issues. As mentioned earlier, CMS guidance regarding visitors in LTC facilities changed throughout 2020, and non-compliance with the latest guidelines carries severe penalties. With the right visitor management program, healthcare facilities can quickly update and implement their visitation policies to ensure they remain in compliance with federal guidelines.
Every healthcare organization has its own specific needs. A good visitor management program should be flexible, scalable, and robust enough to deliver in the key areas discussed above.