As senior living communities and other long-term care settings across the country work through the various phases of reopening, it’s become apparent that solutions for contact tracing and social distancing will be crucial. With limited funding options and human resources constraints, it will be important for operators to closely evaluate the types of solutions they want to bring on. Everyone’s goal is to reduce risk and keep residents and staff safe and healthy. 

Social distancing in the business of senior living and nursing care is not always feasible.  Although most solutions you find will address social distancing in some manner, automating contact tracing offers several benefits to healthcare facilities. Typical contact tracing could take several days to reach all the necessary people. Conflicting schedules, varying levels of responsiveness, incomplete memory recall — traditional contact tracing is inherently prone to human error. 

Automating the process of contact tracing can ensure accuracy and speed response time in the event that someone becomes symptomatic or a case is positively identified. Automated contact tracing solutions provide operators with the ability to quickly and accurately identify possible contacts in a matter of minutes, via simple reporting tools. This capability is invaluable for reducing the risk of viral spread and containing a possible outbreak. 

Most solutions will require some combination of software and hardware. Software serves as the repository for the location data captured, enables historical and real-time location visibility, and supports reporting and analytics. Hardware will vary significantly from solution to solution, but it usually will include strategically mounted devices throughout a community and small, personal tags that can be worn by staff members, residents and visitors. 

A wide range of technologies is used for capturing the location data that enables automated contact tracing. Wi-Fi or Bluetooth Low Energy-based solutions typically offer room-level accuracy.  Still other tech uses ultrasound or infrared technology, but obstruction can limit accuracy. Ultra-wideband is yet another locating technology that offers very precise location accuracy to within centimeters.

Which technology is the best fit for your community will depend on the level of accuracy you are looking to obtain. If you want to know with certainty whether two (or more) people were truly “in contact” and not merely in the same room, you will require a higher degree of accuracy.

Beyond the “how” of locating technology, your community will want to focus on evaluating several other considerations:

  • Alerting: How will alerts be made if social distancing is violated? Should the wearable tags themselves have audible or tactile alerts? Perhaps this is unnecessary, and you only need to ensure the proximity is logged in the software as a contact. Optionally, you may like mobile alerts issued to management level staff. 
  • Tag management: To ensure broad adoption of this critical technology, it must be easy to use and manage. Preference should be given to tags that have a warrantied fixed battery life versus tags that require turning on/off to conserve battery life or recharging. How will tags be issued/re-assigned once in use amongst staff or residents? Also, consider the process for needing tags to be cleaned and sanitized. How flexible are the various tag styles for wearing? Popular options often include a badge clip or lanyard for staff. 
  • Integration with third-party applications/software: As much as you try to streamline operations, it may seem as if every department has its own specialty software. Will your contact tracing solution integrate with your HR management software? How about your electronic health records system or security access control? Whatever solution you choose should “play nice” with your broader IT ecosystem to drive the most value for your community. Consider looking for a solution that offers a standards based and open interface tool.
  • After the pandemic: What value does your solution have after the threat of the current pandemic is over? Ideally, you’d look for a solution that could serve the immediate needs now for contact tracing but has use beyond this one application. Many location solutions can be used for asset tracking/management, process improvements and emergency staff duress response and wander management and be able to offer quality of life metrics and clinical care reference data.

Until proven treatments, and eventually a vaccine, for COVID-19 exist, contact tracing and social distancing will be key in keeping our seniors and caregivers safe. With some research and understanding of what’s involved, operators will be able to identify the solutions that offer the greatest benefits for their communities.

Michele York is the product marketing manager at Secure Care Products, a company providing wireless safety and protection solutions in long-term care for more than 40 years.