Oct 28 2022

LeadingAge 2022: 3 Emerging Technologies Driving the Future of Senior Care

Voice-interactive technology, robotics and artificial intelligence can improve staff efficiencies, resident experiences and patient outcomes in senior and post-acute care.

Staff shortages and increased adoption of smart technologies by older adults are driving senior and post-acute care organizations’ implementation of emerging technologies such as voice-interactive solutions, robots and artificial intelligence. With the successful deployment of these solutions, organizations have the potential to mitigate the effects of staff shortages, make workflows more efficient, enhance resident experiences and improve patient outcomes.

At 2022 LeadingAge Annual Meeting + EXPO, senior care and technology leaders spoke about how senior and post-acute care organizations can use emerging technologies to improve the lives of staff, patients and residents.

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Robots Create Staff Efficiencies Amid Senior Care Staff Shortages

“We see the most promising applications for robotics in service and rehabilitation,” said Majd Alwan, senior vice president of technology and business strategy at LeadingAge and executive director for the LeadingAge Center for Aging Services Technologies.

Shawn Fontaine, general manager of dining services at Wesley Enhanced Living Main Line, said it was getting harder to hire part-time servers. In response, his organization implemented Matradee robots in three of its six communities to help with food service. The robots carry trays of plates to and from the kitchen.

Fontaine convinced the organization’s leadership to shift from labor to capital expenditure for the robots. One Matradee robot is the equivalent of two part-time servers, he says, adding that the organization has saved upward of $72,000 per year in labor costs. Additionally, the speed of service has increased, service is quieter, and residents are entertained by the robots.

Tim List, administrator at Longhorn Village, said his organization also implemented Matradee robots due to the labor shortage. To make the implementation success, he explained, it’s important to find a technology partner early.

The organization let residents pick the robot’s name to warm them up to the concept and create engagement with the technology. Because the robot returns used plates to the kitchen, it gives staff more time to spend with residents. List added that the robot helps with recruitment and retention as many of the teenagers who typically take the part-time positions now see the community as a “cool place with robots.”

EXPLORE: Best practices for digital transformation in senior care.

Cypress Living in Fort Myers, Fla., introduced robotics for culinary services in 2021. Vice President of Innovation Joe Velderman said process engineering has been the key to the community’s success.

“Robots are not going to solve your staffing challenge,” he said, adding that the deployment of robots needs to be coupled with a re-engineering of existing workflows to ensure efficiencies. Velderman started with the seating experience and an online reservation system to take pressure off the front- and back-end staff, which helped to normalize the flow of operations.

“We also wanted to keep servers in their sections to prevent them from distracting the back-of-house staff in the kitchen. To keep servers on the floor, we had to create a way for them to place orders electronically,” he said. “It’s not efficient if they need to go to the back of the kitchen.”

The organization implemented a tablet point-of-sale solution to solve that part of the problem. A system was created to let servers know which plate on the robot’s tray was intended for which resident. In addition, carts were placed in each section with extra utensils and condiments to prevent servers from needing to leave their sections.

All of these changes were part of the process engineering to ensure that the implementation of robots created maximum efficiencies.

“Implementation wasn’t immediate. We broke down each transaction to determine if it was necessary and what could be automated,” said Velderman.

David Finkelstein
We prepared for each technology implementation by deliberately communicating with all stakeholders to explain why we’re doing this. It’s not to replace them but to augment their work.”

David Finkelstein CIO, RiverSpring Living

He emphasized that it wasn’t a culinary or technology problem to solve. He included management and human resources in the process as well to change job descriptions. With the $200,000 per year savings in operating costs, the organization was able to reinvest in their servers, raising pay from $11.80 per hour to $17 per hour according to Velderman.

David Finkelstein is CIO of RiverSpring Living, an organization with approximately 600 beds that provides post-acute, rehabilitation, memory care, low-vision and long-term care services. RiverSpring implemented a medication dispensing machine in partnership with Partners Pharmacy in March 2020.

The solution holds about 200 of the most common medicines prescribed for those in long-term and post-acute care. It selects the correct medications for each patient and dispenses them in envelopes. A nurse grabs a canister and has the information needed to hand out the medications correctly. Finkelstein said RiverSpring is working with its electronic health record vendor to integrate the medication information using barcodes.

The organization also implemented a ZeroG Gait and Balance System from Aretech to help with patient rehabilitation. A harness attached to the patient takes on 40 percent of the patient’s body weight to assist with physical therapy. Only one therapist is needed when using the robot, rather than two, as the robot will automatically pick up the patient if it senses they’re about to fall.  

“We prepared for each technology implementation by deliberately communicating with all stakeholders to explain why we’re doing this. It’s not to replace them but to augment their work. You can’t overcommunicate,” said Finkelstein. “All stakeholders need to participate and embrace the change brought by robotics.”

“My advice for someone considering robotics is to just do it. This is going to continue to advance and evolve at a rapid pace over the next five years. It’s important to get your feet wet with some sort of robotics today so staff and residents get familiar with it and see it as the new normal,” Velderman added. “This is just the tip of the spear. Do yourself a favor by investing in something and learning through that implementation process sooner rather than later.”

Voice-Interactive Tech Gives Residents Autonomy, Saves Staff Time

Ongoing staff shortages, coupled with high costs created by supply chain issues and inflation, are making decisions about technology implementation even more important. John Coyne, senior solutions architect for Alexa Smart Properties at Amazon, said technology needs to be a tool, not a hinderance.

“Technology needs to be easy. It should work and not be cumbersome. Someone shouldn’t need a degree in network engineering to make it work,” he said. “I want to know what keeps you up at night so we can figure out how we can use the technology to help you make your business run smoother and get a return on investment.”

According to Coyne, voice searches are growing at a faster rate than keyword searches and voice will continue to be a trend in technology. In senior care, organizations want to be able to handle announcements, calendaring, daily briefings, dining menus, directory searches, event signups, work orders and mail status all through one interface. That’s in addition to more resident-facing features such as video calling, weather and music.

Coyne explained that Alexa for Smart Properties is a fleet management service for Echo devices. The system lets senior care organizations manage what features are available to residents, device volume, camera functionality, languages and time zones, all from one dashboard. The devices can also be broken into groups for modality of service. Specific skills can be created for individual properties, and the devices can be connected to smart controls to enable voice-controlled lights.

LEARN MORE: What is the next level of technology in senior care?

“Alexa allows seniors to keep their dignity. It makes people more self-sufficient, gives them more control and more life,” said Todd Carling, business development for Fellowship Square–Mesa.

He also explained that Alexa can be helpful for temperature controls or microwave times. With the voice-interactive technology, residents don’t have to go to the front desk to put in work orders or check whether the mail has arrived — they can just ask Alexa. Prior to the organization’s Alexa implementation, staff had to check each resident’s room to set temperatures. With smart thermostats controlled by voice, the staff don’t have to make those visits themselves, and they save time.

“Anything you can do to stop repetitive, low-value tasks for staff is a bonus,” said Coyne. “Those tasks aren’t why they went into senior care. Now they can focus on more high-value tasks like helping residents get in or out of bed.”

Carling added that during the pandemic, Fellowship Square–Mesa used the system to ask about the main symptoms of COVID-19. If a resident was experiencing symptoms, an email would be sent to key staff to set up a doctor’s appointment.

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The Importance of AI in Senior Care as Data Collection Increases

The collection of health data continues to grow as organization have more access to patient information through technology. Artificial intelligence and machine learning will be key to unlocking that data to improve patient outcomes and staff efficiencies.

NuAIg CEO Vipin Bhardwaj explained that AI is already being used in senior care. One example is an AI-assisted chatbot that can answer commonly asked questions. Predictive models can also be used to detect when a caregiver may be about to leave an organization so leaders can take action to retain that employee.

Robotic process automation uses AI to automate repetitive tasks such as reading emails for invoices, taking information from an application form to fill out background checks or other documentation.

Travis Gleinig, CIO of United Methodist Communities, said his organization partnered with NuAIg 18 months ago to use robotic process automation to simplify HR processes.

DISCOVER: Why senior care organizations need to prioritize health IT.

“There was a lot of opportunity for inaccuracies and the need to redo work in our old system,” he explained. “NuAIg re-engineered the process. Now, HR staff just puts in an employee number, and all of the relevant employee information will populate. It’s fully integrated within our Microsoft ecosystem.

He explained that no single process is going to replace staff.

“It’s a continuous snowball effect. After five or six processes you’ll realize how robotic process automation is shifting your workforce,” said Gleinig. “Maybe you’ll be able to reduce your administrative staff and hire another caregiver. It’s not just dollars and cents or hours spent, but there’s an impact on all of these subsequent processes that helps redevelop your organization.”

Bhardwaj recommended that organizations start their automation with stakeholder education. Organizational leaders need to identify internal champions who will embrace the technology. It’s also important to identify a specific business use case and then prioritize and execute on that project.

“Governance is boring, but it’s the most important part. Without it, you won’t be successful,” added Gleinig. “You need to have well-defined metrics and data defined by the stakeholders themselves. IT can’t define them because the metrics mean something different to all departments. It’s important to be intentional in how you define KPIs, where they come from and how they’re displayed.”

Click here to explore the rest of our coverage of the 2022 LeadingAge Annual Meeting + EXPO, which took place Oct. 16-19 in Denver. Follow us on Twitter at @HealthTechMag and join the conversation at #LeadingAge22.

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