Intuitively, many people think of senior living as a somewhat traditional and tech adverse industry. With the focus so squarely on giving care in perpetuity to patients that need consistent hands-on attention, the core mission of senior living is understandably seen as a very traditional hands-on concept. But in reality, the complex needs of patients receiving these services are actually the perfect environment for many of our most recent innovations from hardware devices to software to services.
As the baby boomer generation begins to expand the over 65 population and improved health outcomes extend life expectancies for all the demand for digital technology in senior living is growing rapidly. Senior living providers are looking to digital technology to assist their communities and their caregiving staff in providing the best possible care experience for residents.
Here are four areas where the application of digital devices, software, and services are increasingly evident in their ability to provide a meaningful impact in senior living.
Software for Everything
Just as your operations teams have been using productivity tools like Microsoft Office, and financial software applications, EHR has become embedded in many senior living organizations. Nowadays a daily need for senior living caregivers is having access to resident’s electronic health records (EHR). Through EHR’s and related software platforms, health records are maintained, medications are tracked, activity logs are completed, and incident reports are filed.
But EHR records don't always pull from identical databases, information needs to be shared across the care continuum, and access to personal health information (PHI) must be closely managed to maintain compliance with HIPAA regulations. This demands a high degree of tech expertise in applications and network engineering to maintain compatibility and security.
Cloud based or local network based Software as a Service (SaaS), including EHR, is becoming a popular model for licensing applications, giving organizations the ability to scale licensing as needed and rely on others for hosting and maintenance. However cloud based solutions require a highly secure connection to the internet with adequate bandwidth to transfer data in real time and intelligent network design to keep data flowing smoothly.
Keeping Residents Safe
IoT (Internet of Things) devices have been gaining real traction in the senior living industry with their ability to provide potentially lifesaving solutions embodied in unobtrusive, relatively low cost, and low power devices. While senior living communities will always be based around the core idea of having caregivers physically present, IoT innovations can help fill the gaps when and where direct supervision is not possible or appropriate.
Many senior living residents, especially those in memory care communities, often require monitoring of different degrees to help ensure their safety. This can take many forms in IoT, from location tracking and access control to vital signs monitoring and fall detection.
In new construction and renovation of facilities, caregivers, architects and IT professionals can work together to design in the appropriate infrastructure to support the future IoT systems. IoT promises to open up a new world of possibilities in providing care in senior living communities and is truly just starting to emerge in the industry.
Connecting Residents to Family and Friends
One of the most difficult elements of senior living is the displacement and isolation residents can experience from friends and family. It is well known that this can lead to depression and anxiety while also contributing to significant declines in physical health.
Today’s technology offers some solutions to this that are far more personal and engaging for all than earlier version of video phones and digital picture frames. Rather than waiting for a visit, residents can use voice and video communications to stay in touch with the most important people in their lives, increasing their quality of life when they need it most.
Devices including Facebook Portal, Google Home Hub and Amazon Echo Show are poised to be big sellers this holiday season with their promise to easily connect individuals. One could easily see these devices being offered as part of the resident experience at senior living communities. Extending the idea to address socialization within the community itself may also help with connecting residents with residents, even those with limited or no mobility.
Connected consumer devices are finding their place with the aging population as interfaces improve and applications are built with this demographic in mind. Furthermore as the younger generation of elderly starts to migrate into or at least plan for senior living communities, their connected devices and connected expectations are coming with them.
Streaming entertainment including video and music knows no age limitations. We now have the ability to watch almost any movie or listen to any song, from any era, at anytime and anywhere. The pros and cons of this are up for a robust philosophical debate but the convenience of streaming is undeniable and in consumer markets, convenience always wins.
Connected devices including gaming consoles, watches, wearables, phones, TVs, tablets and laptops are proliferating. The demand comes also from families and visitors who expect the same level of digital connectivity they find everywhere else.
Your Network is Your Backbone
This ever growing list of devices, software and services is increasing the need for senior living communities to upgrade their IT network infrastructure to remain competitive not only from a caregiving and operations perspective but ultimately from a resident experience standpoint. The experience economy is intimately tied to technology and that is not going away.
Wifi wireless networks have brought amazing mobility to consumers and professionals alike, and senior living communities are no exception. The industry is increasingly relying on this mobility to drive productivity gains which enable the same number of caregivers to provide care for more residents than was possible even 10 years ago.
Not surprisingly one of the most critical elements enabling the effective use of digital technology in senior living, the IT network, is often one of the last to be addressed on the budget. The network is the backbone of connected technology and its performance is the gating factor in delivering fully on the value that digital tech can provide the senior living industry and its residents.
By investing in your IT network, infrastructure, and support you can provide an enhanced resident experience, run your operations more efficiently, retain your best talent, and ultimately provide the best possible care to those that need it the most…which is truly what senior living is all about.