Oct 20 2022

LeadingAge 2022: Best Practices for Digital Transformation in Senior Care

Implementing new technologies requires constant communication with residents and staff to ensure success.

New technology can help solve problems, create connection and make tasks easier or more efficient. However, it can also generate feelings of frustration or fear of replacement. As senior care and post-acute organizations undergo digital transformation, it’s important for technology leaders to assuage those negative feelings through communication and collaboration.

In a 2022 LeadingAge Annual Meeting + EXPO session moderated by Liz Cramer, chief post-acute-care strategist at CDW Healthcare, leaders from United Church Homes highlighted their own experiences with technology implementation and lessons learned for a successful digital transformation.

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Education and Training Are Vital to Digital Transformation

Older adults are adopting technologies such as smartphones, smart TVs, Internet of Medical Things devices, tablets and interactive voice solutions. Glen Tibbitts, corporate director of IT at United Church Homes, said the level of technology adoption and literacy among residents is wide ranging.

The organization is currently testing the use of Amazon’s Echo Show devices. Michael Hughes, senior executive vice president and chief transformation and innovation officer at United Church Homes, explained that training is being done in parts.

“It’s important to tie the technology to a meaningful outcome and then work with properties to iterate on that and create a virtuous circle,” he said. “First, we teach everyone to play music, then how to call family. Then staff will use the platform for setting reminders, and we’ll start to build on that.”

Training and building on the technology in stages can contribute to the success of a technology implementation because it gives residents and staff reasons to re-engage with the solution over time.

“You’ll find with a lot of technology solutions that there are 100 different things you can do in a workflow, but it all comes down to those top 10 things used most often,” said Hughes. “Find out what can be automated, and then find those resident champions to help drive adoption and use.”

Tibbitts added that IT should be involved in training as well. He started a “Tidbits from Tibbitts” program where staff and residents can listen in on service coordination calls to hear technology best practices, including cybersecurity tips.

Preparing for Future Bandwidth Needs in Senior Care

With the increase in technology use by residents and staff in senior care, and by clinicians in post-acute care settings, organizations need to ensure they have the proper network infrastructure to support their technology initiatives.

Majd Alwan, senior vice president of technology and business strategy at LeadingAge and executive director for the LeadingAge Center for Aging Services Technologies, pointed out that organizations looking to upgrade their network infrastructures need to keep in mind that bandwidth use is expected to increase as much as 60 percent each year. Because organizations are unlikely to upgrade their networks again for another five years, current upgrades need to be able to handle five years’ worth of growth in bandwidth usage by residents and staff.

EXPLORE: Tips for senior care organizations on upgrading their network infrastructure.

Tips for Digital Transformation Amid Nurse Shortages

Nationwide staff shortages are impacting many industries, but healthcare is experiencing the effects acutely as many clinicians feel burned out from the ongoing pandemic. To address these concerns, Lorelei Heineman, director of clinical services operations at United Church Homes, explained that the organization has implemented artificial intelligence to identify which patients are at risk for hospitalization.

Clinicians get notified via email or through the app and can address these concerns in morning meetings to prevent hospitalization.

United Church Homes’ leadership also is considering using AI for fall reduction, especially in memory care.

Lorelei Heineman
If you're not monitoring or measuring your pilot, you don't really know how well that technology is being used.”

Lorelei Heineman Director of Clinical Services Operations, United Church Homes

However, some nurses are hesitant to use new technology, especially if they fear it will replace their role. Heineman recommended that post-acute leaders first identify the communities most open to technology and find those early adopters.

“Do pilots and make sure they’re working well before you take the technology to the next level,” she said. “You’ve also got to follow up and discover the pain points. Those will likely be different for every community, depending on Wi-Fi needs, wall thicknesses, etc. If you're not monitoring or measuring your pilot, you don't really know how well that technology is being used.”

Heineman emphasized that it’s okay to fail. Sometimes a community can’t make the technology work, don’t adopt it or have a bad experience. It just may not be the right time for that technology implementation.

Communication Is Key to Technology Implementations in Senior Care

One way to determine the potential success or failure of a digital transformation early in the process is to talk with nurses, residents and staff. The intended end user likely has valuable insights that leaders may not have thought of in their ideation or research.

“If you want to implement a technology solution, spend time with the end user to work through how it would be used,” said Hughes, adding that it’s also important to include the family in discussions where appropriate.

IT should be included as early as possible in a technology pilot, said Tibbitts.

“IT’s involvement can be critical to the success of the pilot,” he said.

The initial stage of a technology pilot should last no more than 90 days, said Tibbitts, and should include frequent check-ins. In addition, the ROI shouldn’t merely be saving five minutes of a nurse’s time; there should be a tenfold improvement time or cost savings or reduced falls.

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

However, not all returns are tangible. Hughes said it’s important to talk with nurses, staff and residents to identify the intangibles, such as the joy created by robotic pets or better sleep due to lower agitation.

In addition to communication with stakeholders, Tibbitts explained that partnerships are also necessary when undergoing digital transformation.

“Our relationship with CDW transformed from a vendor to a partner,” he said. “It even goes beyond partnership. We’ve invited them to speak at our innovation council. It’s a synergistic relationship that we’re lucky to have.”

Keep this page bookmarked for our coverage of the 2022 LeadingAge Annual Meeting + EXPO, taking place Oct. 16-19 in Denver. Follow us on Twitter at @HealthTechMag and join the conversation at #LeadingAge22.

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