Nov 22 2023

LeadingAge23: How Will Generative AI and Robotics Impact Senior Care?

Leaders in the aging-services sector discussed the role of generative artificial intelligence and robotics now and in the future.

Conversations about artificial intelligence and other automated solutions continue to take center stage in the healthcare industry, especially amid staffing concerns and financial strain.

Generative AI in particular has captured the interest of many healthcare executives, and relevant vendors have been integrating such solutions into their products. For instance, ambulatory cloud-based electronic health records system eClinicalWorks announced earlier this year that it was integrating ChatGPT with its EHR and practice management solutions.

Some 75 percent of healthcare leaders believe generative AI has advanced enough to “reshape the industry,” according to a 2023 Bain survey, but only 6 percent have an established generative AI strategy.

Of course, these conversations are not limited to traditional healthcare systems but have also affected the aging-services sector. Leaders of senior care organizations across the U.S. gathered in November at the LeadingAge 2023 Annual Meeting and Expo in Chicago to discuss the future of generative AI in their sector and re-evaluate how automated technologies such as robotics can better support a struggling workforce.

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What Impact Does Generative AI Have on Aging Services?

During a panel discussion about ChatGPT and generative AI as a whole, Joe Velderman, vice president of innovation at Fort Myers, Fla.-based Cypress Living, urged his fellow senior care organization leaders to think about their use of AI immediately if they haven’t already.

People are already living AI-assisted realities, from video suggestions through YouTube’s algorithm to suggested words and phrases for emails through Gmail, he said.

At Cypress Living, Velderman explained that the organization uses AI in helpdesk software, which has significantly augmented the work of the IT department. The organization is also testing an internally developed AI chatbot in Microsoft Teams for clinician decision support.

“It’s our opportunity right now to think about how we’re going to responsibly use artificial intelligence going forward. We can’t get this wrong,” he said.

David Lindeman, director of the Center for Technology and Aging at the University of California, Berkeley, said he understood that there would always be fear with new technology, but that things will always change. Organizations should adapt but also move forward with a critical eye.

He predicted that the next two to three years will be central in creating guardrails for AI tools, especially with concerns about bias and data quality. Rama Chellappa, a Bloomberg Distinguished Professor at the Johns Hopkins Institute for Assured Autonomy, also stressed the importance of securing protected health information.

READ MORE: Why senior care organizations need to prioritize employee security training.

Lindeman added that the incoming generation of employees will be more familiar with generative AI, so organizations that aren’t already crystalizing their AI strategy will miss out on attracting new talent.

AI will be key to improving senior care in two ways, Lindeman said: automating back-end tasks, such as creating reports so that staff can focus on better care management; and personalizing care to improve resident engagement.

Velderman also said that there were three types of businesses: those that are AI-native and lead with AI; those that are AI-emerging and will be transformed by AI once they adopt the solutions; and those that are obsolete.

He hoped for fellow conference attendees to be in the AI-emerging group. “We need to adapt, we need to transform, or we’re going to become obsolete,” Velderman said.

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Moving the Needle on Robotics in Senior Care

During another session, “Making Robotics a Reality, Not a Regret,” the panelists wanted to move the conversation from what to how: from what’s possible with available solutions to how to leverage robotics to realize promised results.

Bruce Shearer, vice president of technology at Presbyterian Senior Living, shared that the organization’s robotics journey started a few years ago. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization began using robotics in its dining services.

Shearer said that organizations needed to rethink their approach to robotics — strategies should go beyond envisioning the physical image of a robot and start to understand the synergies between AI and robotics.

David Finkelstein, CIO of RiverSpring Living, also shared his organization’s robotics journey, which started at the beginning of the pandemic. The organization conducted research, consulted with peers and tried small pilots on certain robotic solutions. RiverSpring Living found success using robotics to help with medication dosing and dispensing, and to assist with physical therapy through gait and balance monitoring. The organization also used robotics in telemedicine, entertainment and wayfinding.

WATCH: Cypress Living makes primary care a priority for residents.

Finkelstein advised other senior care organizations to focus on solutions that fit with their organizational culture, and said that if they’re still skeptical about robotics, they should reach out to other organizations that are already using such solutions.

Majd Alwan, chief strategy and growth officer at ThriveWell Tech, stressed the importance of liberating data from silos to make robotic process automation work. Lack of interoperability remains a major issue for RPA.

When it comes to staff concerns, organizations should also have “clear communication that automation, RPA and robotics are not here to take away your job. There’s always going to be an opportunity for you. This is going to reduce burdensome tasks that you shouldn’t be doing anyway” so that employees can focus on residents and higher-level tasks, Alwan said.

Keep this page bookmarked for our coverage of the 2023 LeadingAge Annual Meeting and EXPO, taking place Nov. 5-8 in Chicago. Follow us on X (formerly Twitter) at @HealthTechMag and join the conversation at #LeadingAge23.

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