Senior Living Operators Tread Lightly on Tech’s Digital Divide

Senior living is rife with new technologies for residents and operators alike. But with an abundance of solutions and opportunities for providers to traverse the digital divide, it’s easy to get swallowed in the abyss.

Whether it’s a wearable device, remote monitoring or some form of workflow management system, the senior living sector abounds with a seemingly endless array of technologies, and providers have to be wary of investing in only the tech that’s right for them, agreed a panel of operators during SHN’s Dallas Summit mid-March.

“We see a lot of great ideas. Some may work, some may not. It depends on the amount of investment we make in these products and what they can provide,” said Chris Becker, chief information officer for Baltimore-based developer The Shelter Group, which manages 30 communities across eight states in the Northeast Atlantic through its subsidiary Brightview Senior Living.

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Opportunties

While there might be a litany of products flooding the market, operators find the greatest value in technology that fosters communication between both residents and their families, as well as between families and the community.

“Our residents are becoming much more tech-savvy. As we see baby boomers starting to hit the market, that creates additional revenue opportunities as well,” said Greg Swope, chief information officer at Newton, Mass.-based Five Star Senior Living (NYSE: FVE).

And it goes beyond just simply having Wi-Fi throughout the community. Rather, tech that helps adult children “visit” their resident parents when they can’t physically drive over to the community will improve satisfaction levels of both residents and their families.

“How technology can help establish that relationship will allow decision-makers to see, at the end of the day, why they put Mom here,” Swope said.

Barriers

One of the biggest barriers for providers in adopting new tech has long related to cost and finding a return on their investment, whereas other hesitation has stemmed from concerns that newly implemented tech may become obsolete in a few years time — and not without good reason.

But as more mainstream consumer tech focused on health and wellness, such as Fitbits and perhaps even Apple Watches, begin to see their practical use crossover into the realm of senior care, it may only be a matter of time before these devices start to interact with operators’ current tech systems and care programs.

“It’s something we should embrace, whether we like it or not,” said Swope. “It’s going to advance and hopefully it complements the technology we’re providing.”

The reality is that not every senior living organization has undertaken the task of adopting tech at their communities, and those who have dipped their toes in may have gone only so far as community-wide Wi-Fi, if that.

However, as more senior living providers begin to think of themselves as being in the hospitality industry rather than health care, more organizations might be inclined to readily adopt technology to remain competitive, says Mike MacLeod, president and chief technologist at Status Solutions.

“Long-term care is now in a position where people are starting to see that it’s time to get going—but they’re not going in large numbers. There’s still a trend of wait and see,” MacLeod said. “The herd is restless. They [providers] want to move out, but many think it’s harder than it is. And they’re overthinking it.”

Written by Jason Oliva

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