The essence of technology is to create efficiencies. And in senior housing, that is no different.
Whether that means enhancing the physical and social well-being of residents, or simplifying one’s daily processes and operations, technology plays an undisputed role in distinguishing providers from their peers in the midst of an increasingly competitive marketplace.
But technology is never static. It continuously evolves with each passing day, week, month and year, constantly outdoing itself in efforts to become faster, stronger, and above all else: better.
The market abounds with a slew of technologies to choose from and will likely continue to produce newer, innovative solutions in the years to come. But until then, here are the top five biggest technology opportunities senior living operators are seeking in 2015:
1. Community-wide resident centered tech
Technology that caters to residents is a no-brainer, but it goes beyond simply having an internet connection throughout the community.
“Technology is more than just having Wi-Fi in your building,” says Lori Alford, chief operating officer at Avanti Senior Living.
A Texas-based operator, Avanti utilizes technology in every single department throughout its six communities—four in the Lone Star State and two in Louisiana. The company outfits its communities with keyless entry locks, point of care systems streamlined with electronic health records (EHRs), fall detection sensors, even 3D imaging tours for those considering a move into an Avanti community.
Avanti also employs a “tech guru,” a team member solely designated to helping residents transition into the tech world, should they want to use it.
“Technology won’t replace providing care to residents—that’s not the intent,” says Alford. “It’s intended to allow team members to do their jobs more efficiently and allow us to have an all encompassing picture of the care that’s provided by a caregiver.”
2. Coordinated care systems
Health care reform has shifted how providers get paid for their services, placing more emphasis on quality rather than quantity of care. To that end, coordinating care between different service providers has become a must.
“Integrated health care is going to help with the direction of where we’re going from a macro global perspective,” says Dana Wollschlager, vice president of senior living care and services at Plante Moran, a public accounting and business advisory firm with offices in Illinois, Michigan, Ohio as well as international offices in China, Mexico and India.
Technologies that track and record health data like EHRs and even telehealth/telemedicine tech will continue to present opportunities for operators in 2015 and beyond, and facilitate the necessary coordination between providers as required under the Accountable Care Organization model of care delivery.
3. Going mobile with operational tech
Technology that creates efficiencies among staff and enables them to devote time toward other focuses like caring for residents and internal operations, will also be an opportunity for operators this year.
For Louisville, Kentucky-based operator Atria Senior Living, 2015 means helping its senior and regional management free up time spent gathering and reporting data. The company is building new dashboard apps to so staff can more easily view and digest key information and operational metrics.
“This will help senior and regional management to get away from things like spreadsheets and desktop computers, and instead be able to view key information on laptops and mobile devices,” says Sanela Graziose, Atria’s business optimization director.
The company is also working on a proprietary census forecasting app that allows real-time valuation of current and forecasted occupancy. By using the app, building managers at Atria’s communities will be able to take out their phones and give a forecast of move-ins and move-outs.
“This is allowing us to move from daily and weekly status check phone calls and emails, and more time to focus on strategy,” Graziose says.
4. Expansion of internal quality systems
Maintaining a well-oiled organization internally is not always an easy task. Luckily, technology can help ensure staff continue to perform in line with the quality standards and goals of one’s organizational structure.
Here is where developing internal quality systems comes into play. Senior living operators who have implemented some form of quality system have been able to reinforce their brand’s message both to employees and families of prospective residents and experience tangible success.
At every one of Atria’s communities, staff undergo reviews twice a year for its Quality Enhancement tool. Essentially, the program audits each of the company’s communities across all aspects of its business. In 2015, the operator is working to expand the QE tool’s mobile capabilities and bring it into an app platform.
But that’s only one area where Atria sees big opportunity in 2015 from an internal quality measurement tech standpoint. The other relies largely on increasing its intranet system, specifically with a focus on electronic learning for staff.
“We’re implementing a learning management system for better and more engaging content that offers training for all of our department heads,” says Graziose.
The e-learning system allows everyone from culinary, sales to resident services directors to access a training program via Atria’s intranet system. While specific curriculums are planned for employees during their first three months of hire with the company, any time after that they can choose to enroll in any program to learn more about other job specializations within the organization.
“Through the easy-to-use, simple-to-work with training program, a person can start their learning and if they’re interrupted for any reason, they can pick it back up from the same computer or from an iPad or iPhone device,” Graziose says.
5. Data security—learning from Sony’s mistakes
Data security is one of the most critical areas of focus that some argue doesn’t get as much attention as it should in senior living. And with threat of data hacking a clear and present threat for massive corporations like Sony Pictures, senior living operators stand to be even more vulnerable to cyber attack.
Operators in general, regardless of for-profit or non-profit status, will have to put emphasis on managing both their intranet and internet technology risks in 2015 and beyond, or face potentially costly consequences.
“We all come from the show me state—show me the benefits and outcomes, the ROI and maybe we’ll adopt it,” says Wollschlager. “Instead we need to think broader from a technology standpoint, set skepticism aside and embrace technology for what it is and use it as a tool to help operators be more efficient.”
Written by Jason Oliva