3 Untapped Technologies With High Value in Senior Housing

To increase resident satisfaction and attract more business, senior housing providers may want to focus on a few technologies that are not so common across the industry at the moment.

Integrated fitness systems, resident locating technology, and telehealth appear to be in use at relatively few communities, but they are among the tech that residents and their families find most beneficial, according to a newly released report from the American Seniors Housing Association (ASHA), in collaboration with market and consumer research firm ProMatura Group.

In fall 2016, ProMatura surveyed 273 respondents from 166 senior living communities nationwide, including freestanding and mixed independent living, assisted living, and memory care properties. Nine corporate-level respondents, representing an additional 160 communities, also participated. This likely will be an annual survey, Dr. Margaret Wylde, founder and CEO of ProMatura, told Senior Housing News.

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Survey questions revolved around technology, including what tech the communities currently are using, how successful they are with this tech, how easy it is to use, whether it is worth the time to learn how to use it, and whether residents/families find the technology beneficial.

Integrated fitness systems were defined as personalized equipment that tracks user activity and progress, such as MedX exercise equipment or wearable trackers such as Fitbits or Apple Watches. Resident locating tech includes products such as PointRF that enable near real-time tracking of residents in a community.

These were among the least-common technologies in use at the communities surveyed, with only 21% of communities using a resident locating product and only 18% using an integrated fitness system. That’s compared with 93% of communities using a emergency response system/resident call system and 92% using a customer relationship management tool—two of the technologies used most frequently.

Source: 2017 Senior Living Technology Report

However, when respondents were asked whether they believe residents and families view a particular technology as beneficial, integrated fitness systems garnered the highest score, earning a 9.7 mean rating on a 10-point scale. And resident locating technologies came in close behind, at 9.6. Resident locating tech also got high scores in other categories: “value of the technology being worth the effort to learn to use it” and “willingness to recommend the technology.”

As for telehealth, this was used less frequently than any other type of tech, with only seven survey respondents saying they utilize it. But all seven gave it a 10/10 in the “willingness to recommend” category, and it got high scores in the “success with technology” and “benefit of technology” categories as well.

“When you think about the difficulty of picking someone up from their room, perhaps transferring to a wheelchair, then into the van or transport to the physician’s office, the wait time, all of that could be avoided with telehealth,” Wylde said. “Because it’s such a time saver and money saver and trouble saver, I thought [its penetration] would be a bit higher than it was.”

The discrepancy between low adoption rates and high satisfaction rates with these three technologies does suggest an opportunity for the industry to seize, agreed Wylde and Dr. Kristen Paris, ProMatura’s director of market research and academic engagement.

Provider Wish Lists

There is at least anecdotal evidence that some of these high-value, low-adoption products are making inroads in senior housing. Integrated fitness systems, for instance, are cited as high-priority by operators moving toward a Center for Health Living model.

However, these aren’t the products that are highest on survey respondents’ own wish lists.

When asked what tech would most benefit their day-to-day operations, the top answers were: tablets/devices for all frontline care staff; more efficient financial management software; and ability to work remotely.

When asked what changes they would like to see in current tech at the community, the top answers were: better/faster WiFi; more efficient resident call system; better/improved EMAR software; and better/more reliable internet service.

The need for upgraded WiFi in particular stood out, with only 68% of respondents saying they have residential-grade and commercial-grade WiFi throughout the entire building.

“I was really surprised when I was analyzing the data, when we asked what is your community lacking, how many times better WiFi, or WiFi all over the community, came up,” said Paris. “[These are] things I was surprised aren’t there already.”

Having good internet connectivity is only going to gain importance to residents, Wylde added.

The need for more point-of-care devices on the frontlines was another area of surprise. Even taking out all the independent living properties and considering only assisted living and memory care, where acuity is higher, the adoption rate of digital POC devices only was in the mid-20s, Wylde pointed out.

“I would’ve thought that would be higher by now,” she said.

Some of the surprising findings could be due to the relatively small sample size, Wylde and Paris said. In the future, they hope to have a larger total sample size and to be able to differentiate respondents based on their amount of experience with a given technology.

Another change under consideration is identifying specific brand names of technology providers are using. Identifying which vendors are getting high marks for usability versus those that get low marks could provide an industry service, Wylde said.

“Many times it’s a technology used somewhere else, and they’re pushing it down to senior housing,” she said. “[These vendors] are not understanding the industry or the users or really looking at the usability of it. Hopefully, if we identify some of the ones that people are willing to recommend more, it will create more competition.”

The complete report is available only to ASHA members, although a limited number of copies will be available for sale through the association’s website.

Written by Tim Mullaney

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