How Technology Is Reshaping the Seniors Housing Landscape

by Jeff Shaw

By Nellie Day

Technological advancements in healthcare and daily living are having a profound impact on the seniors housing industry but not without some growing pains, panelists asserted at InterFace’s Seniors Housing West conference, held Feb. 26 at the Omni Hotel in Los Angeles.

On the healthcare side, providers and family members want to do what they can to keep their loved ones active and well. On the entertainment side, many seniors want the comforts of home — and Wi-FI is one of them.

“I love the idea of technology in healthcare for our clients,” said Dana Wollschlager, vice president of senior living consulting firm Plante Moran Living Forward headquartered in Southfield, Mich., and a speaker on the “Technology and Operations” panel.

“I love it most importantly because we’re able to drive better outcomes for the residents we’re serving, but it does bring additional revenue and cut costs. It results in 25 percent fewer turnover in our communities. That equates to revenue not lost. These are huge numbers as we work to drive net operating income and make these numbers work even better. This is the low-hanging fruit.”

The technology affecting seniors includes everything from surveillance cameras and sensors mounted in individual residences to tablets that record and monitor activity and vital signs. These innovative services and products have an extremely wide reach since both senior care communities and families alike can utilize them.

Karissa Price-Rico of Care Innovations

Karissa Price-Rico of Care Innovations

“We’re focused on senior living and healthcare, but now we’ve seen a convergence of the two worlds,” said Karissa Price-Rico, vice president and CMO of Care Innovations, a telehealth service provider in Roseville, Calif. Price-Rico was a speaker on the “Technology and Operations” panel.

“What really exacerbates chronic conditions is what’s going on every day. The driver is really referrals from hospital systems I rely on. They’re looking at who’s managing their patients post-discharge,” explained Price-Rico. “If they don’t show they can proactively manage their patients post-discharge, they can be in serious trouble. And once you have technology in the home, you can upsell that monitoring service. The truth of the matter is a condition doesn’t just last for 30 days. It continues for much longer than that.”

Technology also takes some of the guesswork out of senior care. While panelists noted many seniors are apt to say they “feel fine” if asked how they’re doing that day by a staff member, the data can show otherwise.

“Clients ask us, ‘Tell me on any given day, which 10 to 12 residents should I be most concerned with out of the 200?’” said Bryan Fuhr, moderator of the “Technology and Operations” panel. Fuhr is co-founder and vice president of business development and marketing for Healthsense, a telehealth remote monitoring system for senior care in Mendota Heights, Minn.

Algorithms with clout

Price-Rico noted that some of these technologies are so advanced they can even help predict how likely a resident is to move out in the near future.

“If I have 6.9 billion data points crunching out algorithms every day, I can estimate the risk of move-out for the next 30, 60 and 90 days,” she said.

Bryan Fuhr of Healthsense

Bryan Fuhr of Healthsense

Introducing technology into a home or care facility may sound like a win-win, but panelists noted it is oftentimes an uphill battle for all parties involved. One reason is the price.

“The number-one barrier to implementing new technology was the perceived notion of business loss,” said Fuhr. “Our clients have pushed us pretty hard on that point over the past few years. They want to document why they’ve invested in this, how it will generate more revenue, how it will reduce operating costs, how it will keep residents longer.”

Outside of word-of-mouth recommendations, Price-Rico noted that a bevy of research, statistics and study results are available from early adopters of technology to prove the organizational value of many of these items.

Wollschlager is a big believer in technology as well, but cautioned the commitment to it must be strong throughout every facet of the community for these new systems and services to not only be effective, but also turn a profit.

“It is absolutely critical that the operators you have running your technologies are completely committed to these technologies,” she said. “They have to be driven from the very top leadership positions to the very last line staff person. If everyone from the top to the bottom isn’t engaged in this, you’ll never see those returns.”

That’s why fellow panelist Dan Dixon, president and CEO of senior care organization Guardian Angels Senior Services in Elk River, Minn., not only attends technology training modules in person, but also brings his staff.

“They sit in training modules with me and say, ‘We’ve never done it that way,’” he said. “By the end, they say, ‘Oh, the new standard of care is coming.’”

Leveraging Technology

Dixon noted the cost to add technological services such as HealthSense to his two newest Minnesota-based projects added $150 per month to each door.

“With that money, we paid for the investment in one year,” he said. “That doesn’t even include the service revenue enhancements coming after that. We’re excited about our ability to care for seniors in a better environment, and to receive revenue and a higher ROI (return on investment). As a faith-based non-profit, we’re certainly concerned with labor costs and the workforce that’s out there. I think technology will make us more efficient and allow us to use the staff more efficiently.”

Wollschlager welcomes today’s focus on technology because it puts the attention back on the seniors, their health and their comfort.

“Imagine beyond bricks and mortar,” she said. “Residents really don’t want to be in our facilities. They would rather be in their own homes. We still want to generate revenue back to us, so we have to figure out a way to do that.”

Dan Dixon of Guardian Angels Senior Services

Dan Dixon of Guardian Angels Senior Services

Maragaret Wylde, president and CEO of research and advisory firm ProMatura Group and the conference’s keynote speaker, agreed that communities don’t have to sacrifice profits for results. Wlyde urged operators to take action that will produce the kind of results that lead to profits.

“We still act like what we deliver is care — with an apartment,” she said. “That’s selling to need. If they don’t really have need, we don’t get any sales. If they do have need, it’s a hostage sale. They don’t want the product, at least how we label it,” emphasized Wylde. “If we figure out what they want, and sell to what they want, we can sell to emotion. Get them excited. It’ll be ‘I gotta have this.’ If we can sell to both want and need, we have sustainable sales.”

So how does a community determine the wants and needs of its residents and capitalize on those wants and needs?

“Do quality improvement surveys and look at the results. Do them before budget time. Run regression analysis, put in questions about feeling at home and appeal to their real soft side,” urged Wylde. “The survey will pinpoint exactly what you need to put your money into. Then you have a plan not for your company, but for your community.”

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