Too often, older adults are regarded as unwilling to embrace the myriad advances that technology has brought to the modern-day experience. Gary Patrick, CEO of Hotel Internet Services, a provider of secure wired and wireless internet services for senior living communities, among other properties, said outdated stereotypes of seniors struggling to surf the internet should be replaced with visions of them texting with friends on their smartphones, posting pictures on social media, talking to grandkids on FaceTime or Skype, and binge-watching series’ on streaming services.
And with each year, the new residents who move to senior living communities will be more fluent in the use of technology—and more eager to use it.
“The adoption rate increases every year,” Patrick said. “Many seniors are very savvy in their use of technology now, and they’ve made it a part of their daily lives.”
Delaine Blazek, vice president, North American sales, senior living for OneView Healthcare, which provides a cloud-based software solution to senior living communities, said health care historically has been slow to adopt new technology, but senior living providers have warmed to the major benefits it can provide to operations and the resident experience, such as through mitigating staffing shortages. Lydia Manning, consulting gerontologist for OneView Healthcare, said technology can reshape the way senior living communities operate.
“Technology offers the potential to transform inefficient patterns of care delivery and documentation, creating new ways of supporting staff and care providers,” Manning said. “This will improve care quality and manage costs while tailoring delivery to a resident’s needs. Technology also has the potential to improve consumer satisfaction and improve the quality of life within senior living. More than ever, senior living leaders are putting residents’ desires and needs at the center of technology investment planning.”
Technology’s positive potential also puts a lot of pressure on communities to invest resources in new advances and to make good decisions when they do. Navigating the infinite choices for upgrading technology infrastructure can be a daunting, but necessary task.
“We feel as though we’ve got to be on the forefront of this,” said Kimberly Borts, director of charitable giving and communications at Bishop Gadsden Episcopal Retirement Community in Charleston, S.C. “If you’re not, you’re just going to be left behind.”
Travis Palmquist, vice president and general manager of the senior living division at PointClickCare, which provides a cloud-based software platform for senior care, said communities evaluating their technology offerings would be wise to start with their strategic needs. “If you’re deploying technology just to deploy technology, then you’re going to have a problem,” he said.
“You need to have a technology vision that complements your overall strategic plan,” Palmquist said. “Take a look at your business and your service model and consider what the biggest things are that are keeping you awake at night. From there, you can prioritize how to leverage technology to help with those issues.”
Involving the residents and staff in the evaluation and decision-making process is critical. At Bishop Gadsden, for instance, the community fields a technology committee that includes both residents and staff members. Residents detail their challenges, preferences, and desires related to technology through the committee, helping the Bishop Gadsden administration “see what they’re interested in and consider how we can address their needs,” Borts said. Bishop Gadsden recently completed a major upgrade of its Wi-Fi system based on the recommendations of residents on the committee.
“I’d encourage communities like ours to involve their current residents—as well as their future residents—in providing input around technology,” Borts said. “It’s been very helpful.”
Borts said she believes it is essential to make sure that staff attend leading-edge conferences that demonstrate the type of technology offerings that are coming to market. The conferences help communities consider tech resources for the present and future.
“We all sort of get into our bubble, and sometimes we need to be taken out of that bubble so we can really look beyond and see what opportunities might be out there that we just don’t know about yet,” Borts said.
Manning said communities should use resident and staff satisfaction surveys to research what technological tools and services would be a good fit for them.
“Analyze those responses to choose solutions that will be most effective, with due consideration for how these choices will be affected by rapid advancements in technology,” Manning said. “A long-range technology planning process that includes the voices of residents, families, and staff members will help a senior living [community] remain competitive and offer its residents the best in health care, wellness, and planned living.”
When evaluating an organization’s technology infrastructure, Blazek recommends creating a technology roadmap built with the help of a gap analysis. The roadmap should emphasize what she calls the three C’s—choice, control, and connection—for residents, families, and staff members, she said.
“If you are starting from scratch, begin with the biggest pain point and work out from there,” Blazek said. “The technology gap analysis will enable you to see which systems are serving the three C’s and which are holding your organization back. This is especially important if you are running multiple, parallel technology products due to acquisitions. From there, your technology roadmap will emerge and you can begin directing your systems instead of running after them.”
Palmquist said senior living communities once resembled multifamily residences in the way they operated but have evolved into high-touch, service businesses. That heightens the importance of the use of technology in operations, he said.
“When you look at managing a long, complex list of services and making sure they are delivered throughout the day to sometimes hundreds of different residents, you can see how the role of technology has become very important,” Palmquist said.
Once a community has evaluated its needs, taking the right steps to meet those needs, including choosing the right vendors as partners, becomes paramount. Technology infrastructure represents a sizable investment. Blazek said identifying an all-inclusive technology solution is challenging and that can result in gaps in service even after a new system is in place. Sometimes, solutions that appear great on the screen don’t translate well to the field, she said.
“Most commonly, these gaps are not apparent at first, but become noticeable when the workarounds begin,” Blazek said. “Frequent gaps revolve around care delivery, event coordination, resident statements, and customer experience. By being prepared with a complete wish list at the point of purchase, senior living providers are better informed about potential gaps as they complete their technology plan.”
When selecting solutions, Manning recommends that solutions for staff should relieve them from nonessential jobs and tasks and improve job satisfaction and morale, while technology for residents should be designed and calibrated for older adults to use.
“Simpler user interfaces with fewer taps to reach the desired outcome work best,” Manning said. “Issues related to declining motor coordination as well as changes in vision and hearing also need to be considered when designing and offering technology to older adults.”
Senior living communities can represent untapped buying power with technology, said Jason Scutt, president of Worth Telecom Advisors, which helps portfolios of properties manage and negotiate cable agreements. In some communities, he said, purchasing internet access is still left to the residents. At one property, Scutt said, Worth found that 90 percent of the residents were paying full retail price for internet access. If a community or community system purchased and managed access for the residents, those rates would come down significantly.
Senior living communities can be home to clear redundancies and overlaps, such as residents paying for access alongside the community paying for access for its staff—all from the same provider.
“I think what happens a lot is the owners of these properties manage these agreements as they come up as a necessary evil rather than really negotiating and using the leverage and buying power that they have to get the best prices,” Scutt said.
When making purchasing decisions for new technology, Patrick warns against the pitfalls of saving money in the short term and creating larger costs in the long term.
“I don’t know how many networks we’ve needed to go in and augment or even rip out and replace,” Patrick said.
Measuring the return on investment from technology upgrades is not often a simple calculation. Among the clear, micro-level improvements that can be measured are staff time efficiencies, reduction in duplicate data entry, more frequent feedback from residents and families, and family applications that can be used as a community profit center, Blazek said.
Patrick said he doubts many residents pick communities based on the quality of a Wi-Fi system, but that does not diminish its potential influence.
“Certainly the satisfaction scores of your residents are going to go down if they have trouble getting online,” Patrick said. “It can have a big impact that way…resident satisfaction itself is a return on investment.”
As communities search for ways to attract families and friends for more frequent visits, Scutt said technology infrastructure improvements can play a major role in creating a welcoming atmosphere.
“The quality of life goes up not only for the residents but for their guests,” Scutt said. “It makes it more likely for them to get visitors. These are intangibles, but they’re important intangibles.”
Manning said researchers and industry need to collaborate to better measure the effectiveness of technology in senior living settings and to determine the best ways of measuring ROI for technology investments. However, she said, some quantifiable big-picture measurements do highlight the improvements technology can trigger.
“When residents and staff members have access to technology that supports them, they have lower rates of move out or turnover, respectively, as well as higher levels of resident satisfaction, compared with senior living [communities] that lack good technology,” Manning said. “The ROI on the ‘connected-life’ models are promising. These models strive to integrate all aspects of technology (including smart home features, connected wellness and social engagement platforms, and environmental control features) into a single, easy-to-use and responsive system for residents.”
Bernard Krafsig, director of IT at Bishop Gadsden, said the backing of leadership is essential to the successful implementation of new technology, especially when navigating the inevitable learning curve.
Introducing new technology can be a disruptive process that requires commitment and deft change management, Palmquist said.
“Once you make a decision to deploy something, it’s not the end of the process,” Palmquist said. “It’s the beginning.”
Manning said tepid support from leadership can sink new technology, and staff also can prove resistant to introducing new technology to their customary way of doing things. An investment in new technology infrastructure that does not include an effort to introduce and promote new capabilities to users, such as staff and residents, often will lead to the new technology’s usefulness falling short of expectations, Manning said.
“Low adoption continues to be a problem for both residents and staff because of gaps in training and onboarding protocols for new technology,” Manning said. “There is proven science for training residents, families, and staff members on using new technology, and OneView sees getting training right as important as designing an exceptional system. Other gaps that cause underutilization include lack of awareness, access, and acceptance of new technology. When encouraging residents to use new technology, it is important to make them feel confident and encouraged.”
Looking ahead, plugging technology gaps and keeping up with trends will only grow more essential for senior living communities, Manning said. There’s little time to waste.
“As the baby boomers begin to consider their options for long-term care, technology options will be a key part of their evaluation,” Manning said. “Many are tech savvy and have high expectations for technological amenities. It is an exciting time. The future is uncertain but we can expect more technological advances that will support and improve our quality of life well into old age.”
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