Investments in technology and technology-enabled care are fueling innovation in the senior living and care industry, although more investment is needed, according to industry experts.

Dan Hermann, president and CEO of specialty investment bank Ziegler, gave the keynote address Thursday at the LeadingAge Center for Aging Services Technologies’ 15th annual Collaborative Care HIT Summit. The meeting was held online this year due to the pandemic. 

The demographic trends of the 75+ population are driving activity, growth and innovation around the entire healthcare ecosystem and into senior living and care, he said. The 75+ population will double over the next 15 years, growing by 27 million people by 2050, and the baby boomers moving past the 75-year point offer a big opportunity for every form of healthcare, senior living and care services, as well as technology adoption, Hermann added.

The acceleration of technology trends, he said, is being disrupted right now due to COVID-19, requiring technology companies to adjust. Ziegler represents several telehealth companies, for example, whose values have increased 25% to 50% from pre-COVID levels, he said.

“Telehealth during COVID is on everyone’s minds and lips,” said Hermann, who was joined by John Hopper, chief investment officer at Link●Age Funds and managing director of Link●Age Ventures, during the meeting. Link●Age Funds focuses on the aging market and companies that provide products, services and technologies to meet the growing needs of seniors and senior living providers. Link●Age is a consortium of senior living providers. 

Telehealth, Hermann said, is playing out around the country. Although before COVID-19, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services only allowed certain reimbursements under very specific conditions, waivers and flexibility are driving investment into telehealth, he said. Progress that would have happened over three to five years is now occurring in one month because of COVID-19, Hopper said.

“The market response and impact it’s having on the quality of care for people is going to make it impossible for that to be restricted back to where it was,” Hopper said of telehealth. 

Consolidation

As technology advances, providers’ perspectives on strategic long-term thinking is changing, the speakers said. As companies grow larger, systematic spending in technology creates scale from a system perspective, and it creates more expertise. 

The ability to attract and retain talent, as well as leadership turnover, are creating technology demands, motivating smaller organizations to pursue partners that are larger and more strategic, Hermann said. Ziegler, he added, has facilitated almost 700 consolidations between 2010 and 2019 and will probably add another 100 this year. Half of those are affiliations or mergers, and half are dispositions of nursing homes going to the for-profit sector, looking to grow and scaling up on the technology front.

The consolidation theme also carries into healthcare technology. New technology companies are commercialized every day, starting in a specific geographic area of the country, building out and attracting clients, then looking to raise capital to grow into a region, a super region or nationally, Hermann said. Then they become candidates for acquisitions or mergers by larger clients. 

Innovation

Much creativity, innovation and technology advancements are taking place across the aging services spectrum, Hermann said. Amazon’s Alexa, he noted, didn’t exist until five years ago; now the cloud-based voice service used in digital assistants is used in many senior living communities. Best Buy is strategizing to bring its Geek Squad into five million senior homes within five years to assist residents with technology. 

Entrepreneurism continues to grow and accelerate around the country in the aging services healthcare sector, Hermann said. Ziegler and the Link●Age Funds are interacting with emerging firms and venture funds as companies scale up products and services, he said.

“Healthcare is a reimbursed market at many levels and many points of providing care,” Hermann said. “It encourages extra participation and focus from the investment world, knowing government reimbursement is going to support the healthcare market.”

The senior living industry, Hopper said, probably is a little behind when compared with the overall innovation rate in other sectors, but companies with innovative business models are approaching the market.

“We focus on technologies and tech-enabled companies to bring real enhancements to the aging platform,” Hopper said, adding that there is a “perfect storm of demographic factors” occurring with the baby boomers aging into the senior living sector. “The COVID crisis has really focused people to say not only is there a big opportunity out there, but as an industry, there are probably better ways to utilize technology when providing care to the aging population.”

Hopper said he’s “heartened” by what he sees, adding that a lot of portfolio companies are trying to partner together and “go after opportunities to provide a more comprehensive solution or potentially different business model to enable the industry to employ technologies and utilize them easier.”

“There are greater investments in technology across the board, and it’s continuing to increase, from engagement to fall detection,” Hermann said, adding that, in general, capital budgets dedicate 8% to 12% to technology, whereas operating budgets only dedicate 2% to 3% to technology.

“We know there is a need for a larger amount allocated to technology within senior living,” he said. “We will keep an eye on who are the leaders, who are the first movers, what they are pursuing, how fast they are adopting, what they are spending and are they successful with the tools they are utilizing.”