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When will families demand technology in senior care?

Wireless networks – they matter in home care and assisted living.  Adult children are letting home care and assisted living organizations off the technology hook, whether it is support for high speed Internet access, wireless networks, training staff on how to support social networking with long-distance family, or whatever. How do I know this?  Let me count the ways.  My own surveys – Future of Home Care Technology 2012, publicly available material surveying CFOs about tech investments (by Leading Age), conversations at MassALFA and finally with tech companies trying to sell technology to the senior housing industry. 

Why blame adult children? Because too often they cheerfully confirm what providers believe – my mother (or father) doesn’t want anything to do with a computer or technology – “I’ve lived my whole life without any of this nonsense, why start now?” I even hear this repeated by tech vendors talking about their own parents!  So there it is, the great excuse. The greatest generation doesn’t give a you-know-what for either technology access or proficiency, so why should (fill in the blank) bother with training in-house staff or home caregivers? Why spend time training residents to use an iPad, refitting out-of-date infrastructure, adding or properly placing wireless access points for families who visit to share videos and pictures with residents?  

Providers will not accelerate without outside pressure.  When the external heat is on, note the long-term care provider recent interest in investing in EMR software, for example. Why, just two years ago, they were quite unconvinced. Oops, in order to share access to a recently discharged patient’s electronic records, perhaps long-term care providers also need EMR software. And just as the readmission penalty has awakened hospitals, external pressure will make it so.  Consider how competitive pressure forced the assisted living industry to invest heavily in upscale decorating, furnishings, common areas, and skilled chefs. Families look approvingly on this superficial list of amenities and select the just-right right mix of appeal and price, providing a dining room for once-a-year family gatherings. But they do not expect and do not ask for tech support for more frequent online gatherings. 

One day soon families will make a fuss from the very beginning.  During the sales pitch, they will expect to screen home care workers by video, check-in regularly with them in the home through the agency’s provided caregiver tablets, chat online with their long-distance parents in independent, small, or grandiose assisted living communities – even when they are back in their own rooms.  So what day is that?  The industry is counting on the fact that it is not soon. They believe that adult children will continue to have no expectations of technology and to expect nothing in the way of knowledge or skill, let alone resident or caregiver training. They believe that no time soon will tech requirements become standard practice and customer expectation.  Ah, but be careful. The long-term care industry (along with doctors and hospitals) thought the EMR requirement was out there, way out there, in the future. So when does waiting for external pressure make you a just a day late and a dollar short? What if that first day of expectation is sooner than you think?

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Hi Laurie - We totally agree with your assessment on the expectation of technology in senior care. What technology each community uses, including whether wifi is available, is something we track in our reviews on senior care communities. Publishing this data on a community by community basis will allow families to self-select in advance, and pressure non-technical communities to catch us. -Tal

We have started a business to allow far away family members to include mom/dad/grandparents in family functions such as weddings, birthdays, holidays, memorial services, hellos, good-byes and even apologies. We provide the large flatscreen tv, headphones, microphone (if needed) and are there to help the family member who does now want anything to do with computers, SKYPE, etc. As stated previously, if they never had it before, why do they need it now? WE know what they are missing, but to convince them that their "children" are not TOO BUSY, DON'T CARE or DON'T WANT TO BOTHER THEM, it is now up to the "children" to do this for their parents/grandparents. It is the younger group who need to invite the older ones into their lives again, no matter how far away anyone is. We want to do this for people as we have had the situations happen to us when a family member is in the hospital and everyone else lives in another state and there was no way for final good-byes and last words. To reach the family members of those who have parents in assisted living, nursing and even independent living situations is next to impossible to advertise to. We are offering the technology for those important visits. How can we reach these families??

Good summary--interesting to see how these things evolve and how change happens (and/or is resisted and what pressure finally moves it). We're also seeing how much home health caregivers appreciate tech, despite similar naysaying. We have put it as a priority because we knew how much it could improve efficiency and move our industry forward--and we're seeing the results. We do a specific training as part of our C.E. for caregivers about technology--basic computer skills, and the various tech we use to help them use it to make things easier for them to do their jobs well. We're hearing more and more from them about how that makes us stand out as an employer (hopefully among many other things to support our team). Even had a Facebook comment from someone we just hired about how impressed she was with the tech. tools. We know it will help them do their jobs more effectively...and these skills are translatable to future careers as well.

The pressure--from employees, families, etc. will be there as they're exposed to the benefits of tech and therefore start to demand others follow suit. Our family members don't all jump on things like our online portal, caregiver telephony etc.--but what they do care about is the results that come from what that tech enables.

I thought this was a very interesting article. Laurie nailed it. www.theresidentportal.com The Resident Portal has been in existence for 3 ½ years now with over 300 deployments of which close to half belong to 3 companies in the top 40 SL companies that deployed the Resident Portal in all their communities.
The key we have found after trying everything is that when families connect with their loved ones using our web based platform the families drive the need. Yes, as a technical solution for communication, entertainment, activities, community news, etc., the community benefits as do the residents in a variety of ways but the families are the drivers. Once the family uses it, they do not want to give it up. It is convenient, keeps them in the loop and connects them with their loved ones and the community.
With our solution we have integrated group activities using The resident Portal into activities designed for activity directors to demonstrate how to use the solution, again it is made very simple and though it is taking time for senior living communities to come round, coming round they are. Matter of fact in our training for activity directors, which is online, we also have the marketing people get involved where they demonstrate our solution to families on a tour. Those clients that do this get a Wow! Response, this is great, now all my family can stay in contact with Mom!
I am not saying this is the deal closer but it certainly helps. Now this is just with our web based solution. We are currently developing a similar solution for a company in Canada using the iPad and soon will be adding an iPad app of our Resident Portal to all our current clients. We are finding the iPad an easier tool for seniors but yes it will take time for SL communities to get the wireless networks but those that invest now will see, in my opinion, an ROI in the first year as long as they get the families involved.
As the article mentions things are slowly changing, but it will not be long to where this kind of luxury becomes necessity for communities, residents and families. My 2 cents.