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Large-scale communication that’s quick and cost-efficient is making an entry into senior living for situations ranging from emergency response to routine announcements, using technology-based platforms that often serve multiple purposes.
Automatic email or voice communication messaging systems can be effective in situations where time is of the essence, such as last Fall’s Hurricane Sandy when power was wiped out for nearly 8 million customers in the storm’s path, or severe winter storms that may impact daily community life.
While technology for automated voice and email services isn’t new—most grade schools use similar systems to get in touch with students’ families—the method is spreading to other uses, including senior living.
Social media boasts multiple platforms and growing usage among most age groups, but phone and email remain the sure-fire way for reaching the broadest swath of people, surveys show.
Nearly 90% of American adults age 18 and older had a cell phone as of April 2012, says a Pew Internet survey, while more than six in 10 U.S. households have a landline phone, according to a National Health Information Survey in June of the same year.
Additionally, 91% of all adults use email, according to Pew, with high usage percentages across all age brackets.
A couple different platforms are making new forays into the senior living space by allowing providers to send email alerts en masse.
Connect for Healthcare is a subscription-based web service that allows senior care providers to proactively push out wellness information and other communications to families of clients using modern technologies such as the Internet, e-mail and text messaging.
ConnectedLiving, Inc., meanwhile, is more social-connection oriented, meant to help senior living residents stay in touch with friends and loved ones.
Both platforms can serve other purposes, such as emergency communication.
“We’ve had facilities enter all of their residents into our service, and all that’s needed is an email address of the primary contact for each client. With the push of a button, every single family member could be notified of what’s going on through our ConnectCast feature,” says Craig Gordon, Director of Business Development and Strategic Alliances for Connect for Healthcare.
Most organizations knew whether they were in Hurricane Sandy’s path, but not all providers could tell how much they’d be impacted or if they’d need to evacuate, Gordon says.
“If they have a Connect service, the administrator could pull up the account on their smartphone, type a message such as ‘We’re evacuating now, and when we get to where we’re going we’ll let you know,’ and push that out,” he says of a possible emergency scenario.
ConnectedLiving’s messaging tool also allows providers to reach anyone who has provided an email address.
“So much of our platform is about socialization, and keeping families connected with each other, that we end up creating really large databases,” says Susan Correa Silva, Vice President of Marketing at ConnectedLiving.
The ConnectedLiving platform is in multiple senior living chains, including Emeritus Senior Living, which had about 20 communities affected by Hurricane Sandy.
Through its cloud-based wireless messaging tool, ConnectedLiving was able to email information and updates to more than 1,100 Emeritus residents’ families despite widespread power or Internet outages.
The platform can also generate back-end reports on the messaging tool to see who opened emails, so communities can more efficiently assess who had or hadn’t been reached.
“It reduces the amount of families that a community needs to reach by phone,” Correa Silva says. “We can tell if the email has been opened, or if we sent a link with additional information, we can look to see if they clicked the link.”
Providers have traditionally had to make individual phone calls to residents and their families, and using an automatic system can achieve “huge cost and time savings,” especially on nights and weekends, she says.
Benchmark Senior Living was an early ConnectedLiving client that reported saved in the neighborhood of $120,000 in the first eight months of being able to use the social connection system through 45 sites rather than having to constantly phone people, says Correa Silva.
Voice communication isn’t necessarily expensive, though, especially if it’s automated. Communities with senior living technology solutions provider Tel-Tron’s emergency call system can record a voice message in the event of an emergency and send it out to everyone in the database at the push of a button.
“Using social media to communicate with families is a great idea, and it’s such a buzz right now—but it’s not foolproof,” says Todd Hudgins, Vice President of Business Development at Tel-Tron. “Plenty of people don’t use Facebook or Twitter, and if you don’t [access your account] every day, an announcement might not show up on your feed.”
Ed. Note: A previous version of this article stated that Benchmark Senior Living saved about $120,000 in the first month of being able to use a social connection system; it should have read in the first eight months.
Written by Alyssa Gerace