The pandemic has cast a long shadow over the senior living and care sector. But it also is being credited as a catalyst for technology adoption and spending, as well as healthcare innovation. 

That perspective was the consensus of a panel of experts during the third annual Ziegler Link.Age Funds Symposium earlier this month. 

“Many unknowns remain for the year ahead, but what is certain is that technology adoption, technology spending and healthcare innovation will continue to move forward at a fairly rapid pace,” Ziegler Director of Senior Living Research Lisa McCracken said. 

In the past, certain technologies or platforms that were seen as more of a choice or a luxury, quickly became necessary to help staff and residents navigate through the pandemic.

McCracken identified several key areas where technology adoption increased, as well as COVID-exposed vulnerabilities in the sector that can be addressed through technology solutions.

  • Consumer acceptance increased dramatically during the pandemic, as older adults used tablet devices to stay in touch with friends and family, participate in telehealth appointments and order groceries. Staff members also increased their use of technology in the workplace.
  • Telehealth experienced a revolution thanks to government-supported reimbursement. Telehealth solutions surged in demand during the pandemic, connecting residents to physicians and other providers. And experts agree that it isn’t going away.
  • Many providers adopted remote monitoring/virtual care technologies to monitor older adults’ physical and mental health. Remote monitoring and “smart home” technologies can monitor a resident’s movements and track medication adherence, and even conduct mental wellness checks. 
  • The coronavirus pandemic exposed to a greater degree the known dangers of social isolation in older adults. Resident engagement and family communication solutions played a key role during lockdowns to minimize the mental and physical decline associated with social isolation. 
  • Tech-enabled workforce solutions exploded onto the scene during the pandemic and likely will continue to grow. Workforce retention and recruitment challenges are among the highest priorities for providers. Ziegler intends to release a white paper in the first quarter focused on technology solutions for the workforce, McCracken said. 

Predictions for 2021

As the country and the industry emerge from the pandemic, McCracken indicated, a shift to advanced technology implementation and innovation will occur. But it will be less about speed of adoption and more about maximizing solutions.

“The industry has been upended, a disruption that some argue was needed in the senior living and care sector,” McCracken said. 

As providers look at alternative models and a permanent shift in business as usual, Ziegler encourages providers to think about technology’s role, she said.

“The advancements and innovations are not about the technology itself, but rather the promise that those technologies hold,” McCracken said. “Technology is a means to an end.”

Ziegler, she said, will release additional white papers in the new year related to the technology ecosystem in senior living and care.