Seth Anthony headshot
Seth Anthony

Aging services providers have a reputation for being very cautious and methodical when it comes to changes within their organizations.

Knowing that fact, it is probably safe to say that none of them would be labeled “trendy” by the public. It is a benefit that stems from the population that they serve.

Potential residents rarely are swayed by the hip new cabinet hardware or the cutting-edge workout center. Rather, they want to make sure a community meets their basic needs, and then those secondary factors will come into play when they make a final decision. The challenge is that to keep on the perceptual side of aging services, the definition of “basic needs” is changing.

Access to technology solutions and high-speed internet are no longer “nice to haves.” These are basic requirements that residents and families are looking for when selecting a senior living provider and location. Post-pandemic, those potential residents/customers also are vetting the communications systems that providers have in place should emergencies occur. Having an electronically well-connected campus not only is a great selling tool; it’s also a boon for risk management, as providing consistent, open communications systems can help avoid confusion and frustration with residents and families.

But who is ensuring that all these systems are functioning, not just individually but collectively?

Enter the chief information officer, or CIO.

Let me make a bold proclamation: The providers that are going to thrive and grow are those that give a seat at the proverbial table to their information technology leaders. Sure, an organization may have a director of IT, but that person is not intricately involved in the day-to-day operations and decision-making process. If this person/position is not identified within the organizational structure, then the organization is going to miss out on incredible opportunities to improve their services and offerings.

Think about it this way: how many different software systems does your organization use daily, across the entire business? Likely, there is electronic health record system for residents. The human resources team keeps a database of employees and their files, as well as a database of potential employees and applicants. The sales and marketing group relies on a customer relationship management system, which may or may not directly tie into the website and social media presence used to market the community. Finance is tracking revenue and expenditures in its accounting system, making constant updates and adjustments to provide reports to the CEO. Oh, and don’t forget about the housekeeping and maintenance areas, which rely on a work order system to ensure that all the little fixes get done. Just in this small example, we find more than a half dozen key information technology components that could significantly disrupt a business if they went down.

“If” is an important word here. Although all software requires a certain amount of updating and maintenance, the world now is throwing several external factors into these IT systems. Hackers, ransomware and bad actors increasingly are targeting small assisted living communities and nursing homes. Those settings usually are not well-protected and are sitting on a trove of important personal and health data that would be disastrous if compromised. Even those seasoned in IT aren’t immune, such as a Wisconsin provider of outsourced IT services that was attacked, cutting off more than 100 communities from their EHRs.*

Having a deep understanding of IT developments, changes and interaction is the future of aging services. Perhaps it helps to think of it in healthcare terms. Let’s say that you have a very complicated set of health issues for which you are seeing multiple specialists. Each doctor knows how to treat the specific issue you are seeing him or her for and prescribes you a medication to take. When you go to fill those prescriptions, you arrive at the pharmacy and find out there are complications with mixing those drugs. The individual doctors didn’t pick up on this fact because they weren’t keyed in on all the challenges you were facing. The pharmacist, however, was trained to review these interactions and could keep you safe. A CIO is like a pharmacist for your IT systems. The person in this position can see all the challenges that the organization is dealing with and prescribe technology solutions that addresses them holistically rather than one symptom at a time.

That kind of holistic approach is what a CIO truly brings to your C-suite. Rather than simply patching or reacting to one issue at a time, the CIO can think through the systems that your organization requires to grow and prosper. The person in this position also knows the capabilities of the already extant infrastructure on the campus and can advise your other C-suite team members on how to integrate those systems together to make for a better resident experience.

If your C-suite does not include a CIO now, I would highly encourage you to review your organizational plan for your IT department and find a way to add such a full-time equivalent position to your team. Your board, and your organization, will thank you down the road.

Seth C. Anthony is the chief revenue officer for LW Consulting Inc., which for almost two decades has worked to deliver operational and compliance improvements to acute, post-acute and sub-acute providers and government entities involved in healthcare.

The opinions expressed in each McKnight’s Senior Living marketplace column are those of the author and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Senior Living.

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