Americans and most populations of the developed world are aging, with post-World War II boomers leading the way into retirement and managing the issues related to aging that eventually come. The long-term care (LTC) industry—independent living, assisted living, memory care, skilled nursing, and other services—is already serving more than 13 million people in the United States. And that number is projected to double by 2050, a year when 20 percent of the country will be over the age of 65, according to the Stanford Center on Longevity.
The resources needed to serve this huge need will be great. The companies involved in LTC are devising several means of doing this, such as aging-in-place services (home care) and building more facilities for assisted living and memory care communities. They are also finding that technologies offer exciting possibilities to enrich the lives of residents and improve caregiving.
For example, look no further than Brookdale Senior Living, Inc., a leading provider that operates more than 1,100 senior living communities in forty-seven states. The company is an innovator and early adopter, due in part to its growth through a number of mergers and acquisitions during the last decade.
Its growth-by-acquisition strategy has been challenging in an IT capacity, as the communities it has purchased have legacy systems and data that need to be kept intact to satisfy regulators. “We look at their excellence,” Paul Nigro, senior VP of integration for the company, explains. He refers to the characteristics of quality enterprises that made them attractive acquisitions in the first place. “With single location facilities, we can bring them into our system within twenty-four hours of the closing and train their staff on operational use in under thirty days,” he adds. Multilocation acquisitions, he notes, take longer.
The investment in wireless technologies in communities serves an important purpose. Nurses and other caregivers now keep records on tablets, replacing what was formerly done on paper charts. Nigro details how individual patient care plans and medication schedules are on a single platform, which improves staff efficiency and caregiving itself. Devices are attached to carts, making the digital tool an intrinsic part of daily nursing tasks.
“We work to disconnect administrators and other leaders from their desks to get them into the community.”
But the digitization of the operation of Brookdale communities fosters something else, Nigro says. “We work to disconnect administrators and other leaders from their desks to get them into the community, engaging with our residents and families,” he says. “Not only do these tools ease the workflow, but the less time they spend in front of a screen means more time touching lives.”
Another workflow benefit is where Brookdale employs technologies in the home health services portion of their business. Where mobile caregivers formerly needed to physically access files for patients, electronic delivery and applications on mobile devices have revolutionized that process and made it more efficient.
“It’s a much more efficient documentation process in home health services,” Nigro says. “The caregiver can take notes and electronically share information with the next caregiver. That reduces a lot of time spent retrieving paper notes.”
Efficiencies and improved caregiving quality are just two benefits of the increased use of technology in long-term care environments. According to a 2014 article in healthcare technology publication HITConsultant.net, automation can reduce labor, reduce human error and fatigue, reduce paper waste, provide greater predictability in patient outcomes, identify when patients fail to adhere to a therapeutic schedule, and deliver data-driven insights on program efficacy and improvements.
Nigro notes that technology has a growing role in helping the company achieve its mission of enriching lives. “Over the past several years, we’ve invested heavily in the technology necessary to provide wireless communications to our residents,” he says. “This promotes resident and family engagement through iPads and smartphones. They can connect via FaceTime.”
Such connectivity, more typically associated with the grandchildren of most LTC residents, makes sense from a clinical health standpoint. According to a “Rewiring Aging” study that Brookdale conducted (guided by the Stanford Center on Longevity), a third of respondents would like to be able to text or video chat with family and friends, more than a quarter would be interested in taking group classes to learn how, and only 5 percent say they are completely opposed to new technology. And, more to the point, those that did start connecting with others through technology showed powerful emotional benefits. “Connectivity, particularly between distant family members and our residents, is a big part of the future,” Nigro says. “What runs through everything is finding the best ways to serve our seniors.”