The launch of a new, proprietary app for its residents makes Erickson Living the latest senior living provider to take a national approach toward boosting connectivity and social engagement within its communities.
Technology use among older adults has been ramping up in recent years, as 53% of adults age 65 and older are using the Internet, according to a study from Pew Internet, a project of the Pew Research Center. Additionally, as of August 2011, 86% of Internet users age 65 and older use email, with 48% doing so on a typical day.
More seniors are also becoming gadget owners, particularly cell phone users, as 69% of adults age 65 and older report they have a mobile phone—up from 57% in May 2010. Even among those age 76 and older, 56% report owning a cell phone of some kind, up from 47% of this generation in 2010.
But while an older demographic might appear like one of the least likely age groups to be surfing the web on a regular basis, the Pew study represents the first time that half of seniors are going online.
As the rise of smartphones and personal tablet devices from companies like Apple, Microsoft and Nexus become commonplace in a tech industry that infinitely continues to upgrade itself, these devices and the simplicity of web access they provide are permeating all age groups.
“Residents more and more are arriving with mobile devices,” says Erickson Living’s Director of Operations Jeff Watson. “Because of this, we’re working at responding to great cultural shifts to make sure than an 85-year-old can use these technologies.”
Though currently in its pilot stage that launched mid-October, Erickson’s Digital Resident app allows residents to use the Internet to access community info such as local resident directories, staff information, activities, transportation, as well as dining menus.
“For residents, now the expectation is that they’re going to be connected when coming to a community,” says Dan Dunne, director of communications and corporate affairs at Erickson Living. “Residents not only want the tools to be connected, but also a digital platform that lets them enjoy a lifestyle that’s unique to the services and programs provided in the community.”
Erickson has only rolled out the pilot stage at its communities in Riderwood and Charlestown communities located in Silver Spring and Catonsville, Maryland, but plans to launch the tech at more of its communities pending resident feedback from the pilot program.
“We started the project originally with the point of how we can bring the digital world to our residents,” says Kerri Shirey, IT project manager for the pilot.
Before the company decided to follow through with plans to implement the new tech, it first carried out several surveys and focus groups with its residents to get a feel for what they wanted to see in the app’s functionality.
“There were a lot of touch points to start the project,” says Jeff Hofstetter, vice president of enterprise applications at Erickson Living. “Over the last year and a half, we’ve been hearing a lot more chatter from our residents who want to be more connected digitally,”
At the top of residents’ preferences were items such as staff and resident directors, resident profiles that listed hobbies and what clubs he/she participates in, scheduling appointments within the community’s medical facility and being able to view balances on meal plan management systems.
“Residents are really coming up with the design themselves by telling us what the driver is and what their needs are,” says Shirey.
The digital platform app bears similar resemblance to a communication app launched by Emeritus late September dubbed “My Emeritus,” which allows residents to connect with off-site family members as well as other community residents via email and video chat.
The technology also utilizes tablet devices such as iPads and also touchscreen computers that, through the tech, virtually serve as a “new-age newsletter,” that allows residents to RSVP to community functions, access menus and calendars.
Another differentiator between Erickson Living’s platform and others in the senior care space with similar technologies is the company’s “BYOD” platform, or “bring your own device.”
Erickson plans to further its Digital Resident app in the coming year in two more phases, the second of which will add a component that will enable residents to view their individual health records.
“This goes beyond the standard vanilla of laying down an app platform,” says Hofstetter. “It’s about unlocking knowledge, information and functionality that was unattainable a few years ago.”
Written by Jason Oliva