Independent. Self-assured. Ambitious. These attributes describe the oldest baby boomers who have turned, or will turn, 70 this year. The population surge in the middle of the twentieth century, combined with the fact that people live longer than ever before, 78.8 years on average, means that long term and post-acute care (LT/PAC) centers need to be prepared to meet their expectations.
Personal Technology Demands
These baby boomers are more educated and more traveled than those of their parents’ generation, and their demands will be greater. They are more tech-savvy and will expect to use personal technology as long as they are physically able. Almost one-third of adults over the age of 65 own a smartphone, a figure that increases every year. According to the Pew Research Center, more than half of adults in this group own a laptop or desktop computer.
Whereas the biggest technology demands of the past were cable television and landline phones, many residents today enter centers equipped with personal technology devices and assume they will be able to use them to connect with the outside world.
Regular access to the internet can dramatically improve residents’ quality of life and prolong independence in a long term or post-acute care setting. Participating in social media can help a resident feel less isolated and more involved in the lives of others.
Some ways residents may choose to use social media by:
- Shopping online, even if just to purchase small necessities like snack foods or toiletries;
- Playing online games, or use smartphone and tablet apps designed to improve cognitive skills;
- Taking free or low-cost online courses through organizations like Coursera or Udemy;
- Watching streaming video on sites like such as Netflix or Hulu; and
- Staying independent by coordinating transportation through services like Uber and participating in online banking.
Technology expands a resident’s world far beyond the four walls of their community, and the quality of life that comes with that expansion is now an expectation.
Home Is Where The Wi-Fi Is
Many care centers offer computer labs and the option for residents to contract with outside internet service providers. However, tech-savvy seniors expect more from the place they will call home. They expect a Wi-Fi connection, and they expect it to work.
Reliable, high-speed, and secure Wi-Fi capabilities will become increasingly critical in care centers, and not just for residents who want to use it from a common area. Visiting family members will want to access the same connectivity they expect at home, work, and in stores. When family members are evaluating care options for their parents or grandparents, the Wi-Fi question will come up earlier in the years to come.
Benefits For LT/PAC
In addition to the social and mental benefits, technology can play a major role in how seniors retain their freedom and stay healthy in LT/PAC. While not always embraced by residents, remote monitoring systems may help them stay independent longer by alerting medical staff to changes in everyday behavior. Similar technologies make it possible for residents to call nurses no matter their location in the center, and for nurses to locate them at any time.
Technology also raises the potential for more seamless telehealth—essentially, doctor visits via video chat—which lessens the need for trips outside the center and can even reduce hospital readmissions. While the upfront costs to get these kind of systems up and running can seem significant, the long-term benefits far outweigh the initial investment.
Planning For The Future
Despite the obvious benefits, the prospect of modernizing technology infrastructure can be daunting without a strategic plan for incremental and scalable growth. LT/PAC leaders can get started by considering the following points:
1. Revisit The Strategic Plan
It’s easy to fall prey to “shiny new toy syndrome,” or the desire for the latest and greatest new technology. Rather than thinking about “what” new tools and systems are needed, look to the overall business plan and ask “why” they may be needed in the first place. In what way will the technology under consideration help achieve strategic goals? For example, how will wellness monitoring systems reduce hospital readmissions? Or, how will a campus-wide Wi-Fi network contribute to overall quality of life for residents? Now is also the time to determine key metrics and decide how success will be measured over time.
2. Build The Center’s Team
In a study of middle market executives that included the senior living industry, 97 percent admitted dependence on technology for organizational success—ye, only 17 percent claimed to have a strategic technology leader in place. Even without a C-level technology executive, senior living leaders can begin to align technology and business strategy by building a team of technology-minded individuals that may include any of the following:
- Chief information officer or chief technology officer of the parent company
- Board member who understands the business side of technology
- Independent, third-party advisors in the area of information technology
- Staff members with experience from previous centers
3. Determine Current And Future Needs
With more residents come more devices, and with more devices come greater connectivity needs. As the numbers and options grow over the years, leaders should consider what that means for both their technology and staff. More devices mean that systems need to be flexible and infrastructure needs to adapt to work effectively in the dynamic technology landscape. As for staffing, nurses may be called on more frequently to handle tech support for residents, which may take them away from care responsibilities. This represents an opportunity to bring on dedicated technology support staff or volunteers to manage demand, potentially creating a new revenue source for the center.
Baby boomers may feel that 70 is the new 50, but the “silver tsunami” is just around the corner. Now is the time for forward-thinking leaders to make strategic changes to their technology infrastructure that will have a dramatic effect on their community and their residents.
Rob Kerr is a chief information officer and managing director of the health
care practice at Hartman Executive Advisors, an independent, strategic technology advisory
firm based in Baltimore. Kerr can be reached at email@example.com.