Keeping track of complaints, inquiries, and incidents

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Thomas Frank
Keeping track of complaints, inquiries, and incidents
What’s On Your Mind?: 

As part of the Local Performance Management Initiative (brought to you by NJDOH Office of Local Public Health and Rutgers Office of Continuing Professional Education), Colts Neck used Rutgers’ practical QI approach to examine and improve the way that we document and track complaints, inquiries, and incidents.

THE PROBLEM:
Colts Neck was using a paper form, notebook, and sticky notes to document incoming complaints, inquiries, and incidents (and not documenting inquiries if they were immediately resolved). Because the department is very small, this system works for immediately responding to and dealing with requests for service. However, when the Health Officer needs to revisit a complaint, inquiry, or incident later, some information isn’t always available because it isn’t always documented at the time of service. This makes it difficult to accurately summarize annual activities, spot trends in these services, and create educational tools that are proactive and responsive to emerging needs & issues in the community.

THE NEED:
To provide the best service possible, Colts Neck wants statistical information and records of this service, to see trends and to help formulate educational tools and resources. It’s important to log and keep track of citizens’ questions and complaints because public health needs to respond to concerns as quickly as possible, investigate possible problems, and help resolve issues in a timely manner. Having easy access to information about specific properties over time, to be able to monitor issues that keep cropping up, is essential. And being able to tell the board of health and elected officials about health activities and needs is also useful.

THE SOLUTION:
One quick fix that made it much easier to document complaints and inquiries that come in via phone has been to buy a hands-free phone headset ($10-$20). This lets me type normally while listening to voicemail or talking on the phone (instead of holding the phone with one hand, and jotting handwritten notes with my free hand).

After working through the QI process with Rutgers, we’ve created a new form that includes all the information we want to track, so that every contact can be recorded. But this is only an interim solution – we plan to test out the “contact tracking” Access Database that NJDOH Office of Local Public Health is making available soon. The database should make it easy to log complaints, inquiries, and incidents consistently, to keep track of each contact to make sure that it’s resolved quickly, and (vital!) to generate year-end activity summaries without having to manually count paper forms. We’re hoping to be able to use our department iPad to take notes when in the field, coordinating that with the state’s database.

ADVICE:
Whether you’re a 20-man department or a small operation like Colts Neck, quality improvement can be done (and it really is worth it – but start small!).

Mapping out the existing process is critical; you need to see how the process is working today in order to fully understand it and be able to improve it.