Senior Living Success Depends on More Than Bricks and Mortar

Technology implementation is a business imperative for senior living organizations of all sizes going forward, tech experts say, especially for those who want to capture markets outside the traditional bricks and mortar.

“We’re all faced with the same challenge: bricks and mortar will only go so far, and we can’t build enough to meet emerging need,” says Kari Olson, chief information officer at Front Porch and President of the Front Porch Center for Innovation and Wellbeing. “All of us will need to extend our services. The marketplace wants to see services outside of walls.”

Senior living is exploring a variety of opportunities ranging from telehealth to remote patient monitoring to coordinated, affordable care—technology-driven capabilities the marketplace expects, she says.

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“In this day and age, the perspective is that technology has gotten into every aspect of our life. It has become a facilitator of everything we do,” says Majd Alwan, Ph.D., senior vice president at LeadingAge and executive director for CAST. “Senior living is no exception: technology is a business imperative.”

Technology already plays a significant role in senior living, starting with communication and information tech, says Alwan citing a 2012 Ziegler-CAST Technology Spending Survey where 90% of responding chief financial officers reported investing in wired or wireless connectivity infrastructures in the past year.

Another three quarters of CFO respondents said they planned to invest or increase investments in this technology in the coming year, and the survey’s findings indicated future increased spending on electronic medical records, electronic point of care documentation systems, health information exchange, and telehealth/remote patient monitoring (RPM).

Front Porch, a collaboration of companies with a collective mission to create services and solutions for the senior living marketplace, has 13 retirement and senior living communities that serve as “incubators” and testing grounds for innovative new programs. But getting those sorts of programs in place is a process.

“It’s not easy or quick, otherwise everyone would do it,” Olson says. “The opportunity is, pick a point that’s comfortable to your organization and start trying.”

For some, that might be easier said than done, as it’s generally harder for smaller-size providers to keep up with technological advances and incorporate them into the community absent the same level of resources large-scale providers may enjoy, Alwan says.

“Financing technology has not been easy,” he says, “because no one wants to fund technology for the sake of technology.”

But financing tech when it’s bundled with a service line and a business plan becomes a lot easier, Alwan adds, and tech implementation projects can be aligned with other strategic initiatives like updating or refurbishing buildings.

“That’s why we need to think about business goals that the technology is going to serve, then try to create the business plan and either finance it separately or use the opportunity of refinancing the building to bake those costs in,” he says.

The beauty of technology, Alwan says, is that it can function as an equalizer in giving providers of any size additional ability to create operational efficiencies and cost savings opportunities.

There may even be opportunities for the communication and information infrastructure to pay for itself in a number of ways, Alwan continues, with potential savings on corporate communications through IP-based telephony and the ability to offer and sell Internet access services at a relatively reduced bulk rate to residents. There are additional time and cost-saving opportunities through the use of electronic health records or administrative systems for accounting or human resources.

Technology is a crucial component to Front Porch’s end goal of giving older adults a personalized digital aging solution that’s affordable, and providing seniors with the greatest amount of choice for where and how they live, according to Olson.

“That’s defined really individually, and we have to find the technologies that will support that, [and] business models that will support that,” she says. “There’s no recipe, so we’re trying a lot of different projects.”

One of those projects was an eHealth initiative Front Porch piloted that used broadband-enabled technologies to create an affordable care system for an underserved population of seniors with linguistic and cultural barriers using digital health literacy, remote patient monitoring, tele-consultations, and medication monitoring.

The initiative, which enrolled 91 people in RPM, arranged 23 video conference workshops with more than 850 participants, and trained more than 300 seniors on computer and health literacy adoption, among other achievements, was named one of the LTC & Senior Living LINK Spirit of Innovation Award winners in July.

While it’s not easy to do so, the key is planning ahead, Olson says.

“There are serious threats coming from outside our industry, [outside] organizations that see the opportunity to deliver services into the home. They will absolutely disrupt us,” she says, echoing comments made by Louis Burns, CEO of Care Innovations. “The opportunity for us is to disrupt ourselves, but it’s hard to do when you’re working on keeping [the organization] running day-to-day.”

Written by Alyssa Gerace

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