How Providers Pick Winners in the ‘Wild West’ of Senior Technology

Oh, look—another technology designed for seniors is vying for funding and attention on a crowdfunding website. Will this one, unlike so many others, catch on?

Lately, it seems like Kickstarter, Indiegogo and other crowdfunding websites have hosted their fair share of senior living technologiesto say nothing of the investment dollars that senior-focused startups are winning from other sources. The degree to which these technologies enjoy success varies greatly, but what separates the winners, or those that eventually get adopted by senior living providers, from the losers?

Senior living technology experts from CDW Healthcare, Brookdale Senior Living (NYSE: BKD) and a successful startup shared with Senior Housing News the formula that decides which senior living technology companies “make it,” which ones don’t, and why.

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The ‘Wild, Wild West’ of Senior Living Tech

It may seem as though every day, a new senior living technology solution is appearing on the scene—take, for example, the UnaliWear Kanega Watch on KickStarter, or the Pillo “personal home health robot” on Indiegogo. The seemingly sudden influx of senior-oriented technology is due to the fact that plenty of people are trying to jump into the market right now, Ginna Baik, senior care strategist at technology solutions provider CDW Healthcare, tells SHN.

“It is a bit of a wild, wild west, to put it bluntly,” Baik says. “People see the opportunity, they see the need—everyone has an aging parent or an aging grandparent.”

Recognizing the need to create new senior living technology is one thing; successfully breaking into the senior living technology business is another. It’s always an advantage to already have a stake in the senior living industry prior to rolling out new resident-focused technology, Baik says.

“I think the maturity of the company is important,” Baik says. “There is a definite need to be a trusted advisor in this industry.”

Still, there’s hope for new entrants, Baik explains. Right now, though, a majority of the most innovative technology companies are all in one place: Silicon Valley. And the senior population isn’t what Silicon Valley is focused on.

“In Silicon Valley, there’s a focus on the 45-year-olds and younger,” Baik explains. For the most part, Silicon Valley has yet to embrace the idea of catering to the senior population. But that has the potential to change.

“If you can get the large tech companies in Silicon Valley to start to understand the senior care population, that could be a real game changer,” Baik says.

Take Nothing for Granted
 
Technology companies hoping to successfully enter the senior living market can’t take how complex the industry is for granted, Andrew Smith, director of innovation and strategy at Brookdale Senior Living (NYSE: BKD), tells SHN. Implementing new technology in senior living often takes longer than technology companies expect, and there are more things to consider than they often realize, Smith explains.
“It may seem easy at first—‘let’s give everyone a smart watch,’” Smith says. “But there’s a lot of integration, data sharing, et cetera.”

Organizations need a deep understanding of the senior living business model before they pitch their services to providers—especially when it comes to the costs associated with their solution, Smith says.

“A lot of the solutions, especially those with hardware costs plus subscription costs, haven’t quite figured out who pays for the technology and how that payment is justified to that party,” Smith says. “Does family pay for it? Does Brookdale pay for it?”

Many times, organizations will simply assume that Brookdale is going to pay for the solution, Smith says. The organizations may not understand that this can be a challenge—and a costly one at that.

“Oftentimes, the technology comes with a large infrastructure expense, as well as hardware that you have to buy to collect the data,” Smith explains. Tech companies should also have a deep understanding of the senior living operating model, and how their solution would impact not only residents, but families and staff.

“Many organizations, I find, don’t appreciate how adjusting the workflow would impact the day-to-day of Brookdale associates,” Smith says.
To best suit the needs of senior living providers and staff, it’s key that the technology solution be scalable and include an analytics dashboard, Baik adds.

“Be very careful that you are actually addressing the enterprise needs,” she advises.

Al Baker, founder and CEO of Minneapolis-based senior living technology solution company Reemo, has a three-part checklist he believes senior living providers use when looking at technology. And he should know—Reemo is one of those tech startups that has made real inroads with senior living. The company’s software solution and accompanying smartwatches have been successfully piloted in different senior living communities, and four senior living communities have actively implemented their technology, with three more in the process of doing so.

“The technology that providers want has got to be able to help reduce costs, improve outcomes and increase resident satisfaction,” Baker says. “You’ve got to be able to hit that triple aim on the head at each community.”

Don’t ‘Dumb Down’

There are several possible ways to go about designing new senior living technology solutions. Some companies, for instance, try to “dumb down” existing technology solutions to better suit seniors, Smith says. But this isn’t the right approach—and it results in companies creating an unattractive product.

“They end up with a product that looks juvenile,” Smith says.

Baik agrees. There’s no need to simplify existing technology so that it is “easier” for seniors to deal with, she explains. In fact, designing “senior-specific” technologies can wind up being offensive to the very consumers the companies are looking to engage.

“There’s a cautionary tale that at the end of the day, seniors don’t want to be thought of as seniors,” Baik says. In her opinion, technology companies should scrap the notion of “building for seniors” altogether.

“The mantra ‘build with seniors in mind’ is too broad,” Baik says. “At the end of the day, it’s ‘how do you design for all?'”

That’s how Steve Jobs and Apple did so well, Baik says.

Of course, the technology solutions should still be teachable and understandable, even for people who may never have encountered advanced technology before. Ultimately, technology solutions must find that balance between resident capability and resident dignity, according to Smith.

“But that’s a had balance to strike,” he says. But it can be done. The key, Baker stresses, is to think of how the technology will impact resident first, then ensure that the technology will be beneficial to providers and families.

“Think of the resident first, and then layer on how the technology can benefit others,” Baker advises.

Written by Mary Kate Nelson

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