​Mention the word “mobility” in the context of senior living, and some people might think of group exercise or physical therapy. Today, mobility has another important meaning for senior living organizations: the opportunity to deploy innovative mobile solutions for staff members. These solutions represent an increasingly important way to address key trends—namely, increasing resident age and acuity rates alongside growing challenges related to staff recruitment and retention.
There’s no question that mobile devices and apps have become ubiquitous at home and in the workplace. In fact, according to the Pew Research Center, 95 percent of Americans now own a cellphone. More than three-quarters own a smartphone—a marked increase from Pew’s first survey of smartphone ownership in 2011, when just 35 percent of Americans had these devices.
Meanwhile, the IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science recently reported that there are now 318,500 health-related mobile apps—doubling from 2015 to 2018.
Mobile devices and apps present a real opportunity for senior living communities to improve efficiency and service to residents. They offer a number of advantages over current techniques: 
  • One device for multiple uses, combining the functionality of pagers, radios, and other communication devices;
  • Rich information right in the hands of staff members to facilitate collaboration; and
  • Easier documentation of tasks and actions, without the need for paper forms or after-the-fact documentation at a computer.
As with any technology, achieving favorable results with mobile solutions requires more than simply buying an app. Communities can increase the odds of success by taking a strategic approach to mobility.

A Solid Infrastructure Foundation

Mobile applications require a communications infrastructure to relay information to and from devices. While it is possible to use cellular service, this is not a cost-effective option in most cases. The alternative is a Wi-Fi network, which many communities are already investing in to meet residents’ needs as well as administrative requirements.

As communities deploy these networks, they should consider uses such as staff communication via mobile applications or voice over IP (VoIP) phones. The key requirement is reliability to ensure uptime for residents and staff. These investments in Wi-Fi serve as a solid foundation for mobile solutions.

Prove it with a Pilot

Mobile applications have a big impact on the workflow of frontline caregivers. Using pilots helps “kick the tires” of the technology and build positive momentum within care teams. Demonstrating reliability is especially important for the introduction of apps that replace another form of communication, such as a pager system for receiving alerts. Though much more limited than a mobile app, a pager system is a known and trusted communication tool for caregivers. A pilot helps prove that the new app is just as reliable.

Manage Devices with Standardization 

Any organization planning to deploy a large number of mobile devices needs a way to manage and control them. Standardizing on one device helps greatly with this. The choice will be influenced by a number of factors, including cost, size, battery life, and operating system. The relative importance of each of these factors will be different for every organization, but there is such a wide range of options available that the right fit is almost certainly available.
The other essential component is a mobile device management (MDM) platform. This software tracks the “who” and “where” of devices. It also helps in automating device and app updates while restricting staff members’ ability to load unauthorized apps onto their mobile devices. All of that is critical to ensuring the reliability and security of mobile devices and apps.
Having these enterprise standards supports operational efficiency. Even more important, it helps ensure that these devices will perform as intended.

Invest in Training

Mobile applications are replacing older ways of doing things, and they offer far more features and functions. Training for both frontline users and executive leadership is therefore essential to ensure adoption and to get maximum benefit from the investment. The application itself is not the real concern. For this, comparatively little training is required—especially among the younger “digital natives” within the workforce.
The bigger impact of a mobile solution is on workflow. Consider the move from a pager system for handling alerts from a resident safety solution such as a nurse call or wander management system. For frontline workers, documenting response now happens on the spot. Over time, caregivers will come to appreciate added functionality such as being able to communicate via text messages and having a convenient, at-a-glance view of calls for help, but it does change ways of working.

For executives, it introduces a new set of data and analytic tools to measure and monitor performance and dig into each resident’s behavior and evolving needs. A weekly follow-up with administrators and end users is helpful to address any issues, while ensuring that they are making the most of the solution’s features.

Focus on Outcomes

While there are certainly plenty of technical and process steps that must be completed to support a successful mobile deployment, it is important to stay focused on what really matters: the outcomes these solutions produce for residents and, by extension, the business.
Going mobile can help drive greater efficiency, higher-quality care, and richer data-driven insights. For example, the impact of a facility’s management app for technicians to help them focus on the most pressing maintenance needs can be assessed by a before-and-after comparison of the average time it takes to complete a task.

Sometimes, however, a mobile app makes possible entirely new ways of seeing performance, as with an app to manage resident alerts. Most communities measure the response time: the time between the activation of the alert by the resident and the clearing of the alert by a staff member. Using an app makes possible a different metric: the encounter time. The caregiver “checks in” when they arrive to help a resident and “checks out” when the encounter is complete—this could be quite some time after the alert is cleared. 

When combined with notes on the encounter entered via the app, this gives administrators visibility to how much time is being spent in these interactions both at the community and caregiver levels. The data can be invaluable in informing staff management, as well as resident care planning.

The Future is Mobile

Building a strong technical, operational, and cultural foundation for mobility positions any senior living organization to benefit from emerging innovations, such as the next generation of mobile devices for health monitoring. These devices can help keep an eye on a host of vital signs, including blood pressure, heart rate, and hydration. Some alert not only staff but also a resident-designated relative or friend to receive alerts.
Even more valuable than deploying individual apps is creating a strategy for integrating them. Bringing together data gathered through emergency call systems, care systems, electronic medication administration records, and wearable devices can empower communities to create—and analyze—a more complete picture of resident health, care needs, and performance in addressing those needs over time.
These groundbreaking mobile technologies are already in use at many communities. For senior living, the future is mobile—and it’s happening now.
Tony Villone is senior director, IT operations, at Senior Resource Group in San Diego. He can be reached at tvillone@srg-llc.com or 858-314-1725.