The Information & Assistance (I&A) / Aging and Disability Resource Center (ADRC) process presents an ideal opportunity to collect information about oral health. This project example describes why and outlines a process for collecting oral health information during I&A follow-up calls. Downloadable instructions and forms are included.
Submitted by: Lori Brown, Director, Southeast Aging and Long Term Care (SE-ALTC).
One way of learning about senior oral health practices is to ask questions when you field calls for the I&A/ADRC. I&A/ADRC assists numerous clients throughout the day for both complex and simple needs. This personal approach to data collection is bound to result in finding out information you wouldn’t otherwise have known.
By asking a few simple, standardized questions, you’ll be able to easily collect data through the I&A/ADRC process that will serve the needs of both your organization and the seniors you serve. Here are some benefits:
- You’ll gain key information to better understand and meet the oral health needs of the seniors you serve.
- You’ll help seniors by enabling them to share oral health needs that you may be able to assist them with.
- You’ll gain a written oral health record and baseline for each senior, which you can refer back to in the future.
SE-ALTC integrated oral heath questions into their I&A/ADRC processes and found benefits for both the agency and the seniors they serve. You can customize this process so it works for your own organization’s needs and procedures. Figure 1 shows the oral health questions that SE-ALTC integrated into their I&A/ADRC Screening Intake / Face Sheet:
Figure 1: Oral Health Questions SE-ALTC integrated into their intake/face sheet
The instructions will help you integrate the questions into your call, including identifying and addressing barriers and emergent needs. You can ask these questions as-is or after adapting them, either during the initial screening/intake call or at the time of follow up.
The process begins when you determine that the caller may need assistance and/or information over the phone. If you’ll be making a referral or looking at program eligibilities based on the needs of the caller, you’ll naturally be asking questions and documenting answers as you move through your conversation.
Note: At the time of intake, a caller typically has a very specific need in mind. They’re focused on that need and might not understand why we’d want to ask questions about oral health that don’t seem relevant. Thus, it’s often best to provide only the service requested, without asking additional questions. Then, when you make your follow-up call, you can introduce additional questions, when the client may be more receptive.
Sample scenario for asking questions during follow up call (most typical)
A client’s willingness to participate and answer oral health questions has been found to directly relate to the client’s immediate need being addressed first.
There may be times when you realize a particular client would be willing and able to go from stating their need right into answering some oral health questions. For example, their need may be related to finding a dentist that accepts Medicaid, thus making the questions an easy fit, or the caller may be exhibiting a more comfortable feel about them (e.g., they have a calm tone and don’t appear to have high anxiety about their particular need for calling). In such cases, use your judgment to decide whether it’s appropriate to ask oral health questions during the initial call.
- Use active listening and phone skills
There’s great skill to successfully gathering information from a caller. Remember phone etiquette and active listening skills, especially listening beyond the words that the client actually says. Listening beyond the stated words and asking questions to elicit more information can help you to identify and meet additional needs of the client.
- Remember the end benefit
You may feel overwhelmed with your current workload and think it’s impossible to add more questions! Keep in mind that these questions may provide additional benefit to the callers, and hopefully add to your job satisfaction at the end of the day!
- Understand the importance of oral health
It’s critical to understand the importance of oral health for seniors and the impact oral health has on overall health. This foundation will help you understand the importance of asking these questions and the benefits for your clients. To build this knowledge base, refer to the resource pages in the toolkit, where you’ll helpful content about oral health.
- Practice addressing barriers and resistance
You can practice dealing with the resistance you may receive from clients through role play or other exercises. You might begin practicing by addressing common barriers (your own and the clients’) one at a time (e.g., your workload is heavy, clients will be resistant, it opens a can of worms, etc.). Then use role play to work through several barriers at once. Brainstorm ideas with other I&A/ADRC staff on how to respond to clients who say, for example, “Why do you want to know that?”
- Be ready with support materials
Create your own support materials so you’re more comfortable when talking to a client on the phone. Your fresh ideas are always welcome – consider adding them to the toolkit in the future. Your materials might include:
- Role play scenarios
- Common questions and answers