Telemedicine and artificial intelligence (AI) are helping to take the senior living industry to its next evolution by improving operations and care, while helping solve chronic staffing issues.
From cutting down on operating expenses and the time it takes to craft an annual budget, AI has helped improve back-office functions for operators, while simultaneously improving care for residents via enhanced meal planning, medication management and care plan evaluations.
Over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, many senior living providers went big on remote patient monitoring and telehealth technology. In that time, AI-based tools have emerged within the broader tech landscape that could help providers find efficiencies and improve services.
Senior housing and care operators including HumanGood, GenCare Lifestyle and Avamere are helping to lead the charge with forward-thinking tech, and their challenges and successes in the coming years may well provide a blueprint for tech adoption for the rest of the industry.
Improving operations and care through AI
Thanks to new tools, senior housing and care operators have been able to increasingly leverage AI and machine learning in their operations in the last three years.
Avamere Living Executive Vice President Rich Jolly said the company recently developed a machine learning-based decision support system for therapy staff. The system was built using open-source tools and helps to automate “straightforward back-office tasks.” While these aren’t complicated tasks, they free up time for staff to do other things.
“We have to be pretty efficient in our back office. And we just don’t have a lot of resources to do big integration projects. So it’s very much about vendors integrated into their tools for us to use it,” Jolly said.
AI tools can also help find optimal budgets for various departments, according to A Place at Home CEO Dustin DiStefano. For example, if a company spent $35,000 on marketing revenue and produced $50,000 in revenue in a hypothetical scenario, AI like ChatGPT could potentially help determine what’s the right number for future marketing spends in the future, he said.
“Then you can take that information, put it to your team, and then you can take it further and say create me a 12-month budget, and then it will create a 12 month budget,” DiStefano said.
HumanGood Chief Technology Officer Nick Lindberg added that AI can help providers from a “medical standpoint” for scheduling nurses on rotations at hospitals and help frontline clinical staff perform their jobs. He added that the tools are able to help additionally with medication management and track health outcomes more closely.
Jolly noted that machine learning algorithms can in theory help predict patient probability of certain health conditions, including predicting the probability of sepsis, which allowed care teams to take preventative steps quicker than in the past.
“AI gives you the opportunity to have much more complicated algorithms,” Jolly added. “One of the keys here is that all our clinical care revolves around the electronic health record and it’s going to be a very necessary component for us.”
Lindburg added that by incorporating AI-based tools within operations, companies can properly link data sources and cut down the time it takes to research that informs care planning by clinical staff.
At HumanGood, the company is in the midst of upgrading its electronic health record (EHR) system, and AI could help forecast future health issues among residents, but that isn’t something EHR reporting systems can do — yet..
The company also has a fund devoted to emerging technology that’s allowed the company to interact with tech-based startups and innovate on technology within senior living.
“So we can invest in a company and at the same time offer them the ability to pilot their tech in our communities in a symbiotic relationship,” Lindburg said. “We look for technology that can help both HumanGood and the senior living industry.”
Telehealth helps address care gaps
Since the start of the pandemic, senior living operators have used telehealth to address care gaps and aid residents who might not otherwise have been able to get to the doctor in-person.
GenCare Lifestyle CEO Leon Grundstein said the company during the pandemic noticed a “huge gap” in mental health services for residents. While senior living residents are thought to be living with many chronic physical and mental health conditions, they are not always able to access services to help treat those conditions.
That’s why GenCare joined up with Rippl Care, a startup founded last year by former Aegis Living President Kris Engskov that is focused on providing mental health services for residents via telehealth. Through the arrangement, residents and their families can gain access to crisis support, diagnosis, medication management and therapy services.
“We feel this is a wonderful adjunct to not only marketing, but improving the life of an individual when they move in, or helping them overcome problems,” Grundstein said, of the beta testing rollout at two communities, with two more roll-outs planned.
Grundstein added that telehealth services have helped improve patient privacy and help residents access support sooner than having to schedule in-person physician visits.
“Without this help from Rippl, we would have never been able to make the diagnosis and keep them in the building and let them live a more normal life,” Grundstein said.
Best Life Brands offers ComfortCare, a home senior care business; CarePatrol, which helps senior care services and placement agencies; Blue Moon Estate Sales, which handles senior transition services and Boost Home Healthcare. To date, the company has 260 franchisees in North America, and will roll out remote patient monitoring and telehealth programs in the months ahead through ComfortCare, according to Best Life Brands CEO JJ Sorrenti.
“Our caregivers can respond swiftly and manage proactively, gaining more time to focus on the client’s social and well-being needs that are crucial to thriving in the home,” Sorrenti said. “It allows older adults to reach optimal health…extending care management, reducing social isolation and promoting healthy behaviors.”
Since launching its telehealth program in 2019, the Allure Group, a skilled nursing operator, found that hospital readmissions were the primary driver for new organizations adopting telehealth services, according to Executive Vice President and Chief Business Development Officer Matthew Fenley. After analyzing the data, the Allure team realized that readmissions were occuring during off-hours when physician-level providers weren’t available, Fenley said.
“We went out and explored some telemedicine providers to help augment the care that was being delivered during the day,” Fenley said, which ultimately led to the company reducing hospital readmissions by a “pretty significant” factor.
Once the pandemic hit in 2020, Allure shifted its focus to helping residents access followup care following a hospital stay or emergency department visit. In partnership with Vis-A-Vis Health, patients were sent a handheld Bluetooth-enabled device that allowed them to see a physician within 24 to 48 hours of their discharge. The telemedicine software helped facilities get patients seen by a physician that were reluctant to visit a hospital in-person, Fenley said.
Even with the fast pace of technology improving, the health care and senior living industries are typically slower to adjust to change, making operators more averse to rolling the dice on paying out for a new system.
“I’d tell vendors to focus on areas where they can really pinpoint a benefit and then the system will pull it through,” Jolly said. “If there’s a financial benefit to everybody, and that will drive adoption.”
Grundstein said the “toughest obstacle” as far as implementing new technologies was educating staff on their benefits and how to integrate them into their roles.
“You have to keep re-educating and re-training staff so they don’t forget about it or that they are aware of all the benefits,” Grundstein said. “Don’t wait too long before you make a move … I think telehealth is something that everyone should be embracing right now.”