McKnight's Senior Living, Feature 1, December 2018, Resident Security

On the face of it, “technology” as a description of new advancements in communication tools and medical products can be overused and hard to define. So F. Scott Moody, co-founder and CEO of K4Connect, offers an explanation of how it applies to the healthcare industry.

“When thinking of ‘technology,’ there are really two distinctive kinds — one referred to as ‘medical’ and the other simply as ‘technology,’” he says. “In fact, investors often classify their investments as one or the other, although some invest in both, but from different teams.”

With regard to medical technologies, Moody says there has always been great interest from acute-care providers to invest in medical devices, information technology and pharmaceutical systems for their patients. Conversely, he says, investment for technology directed at older adults as consumers has lagged far behind, which is surprising given the vast size of the demographic market. 

“That lack of investment and interest has led to technology presently having very little influence on the long-term care and senior living industries outside medically oriented investments,” Moody says. “While this has not really changed that much in terms of actual spending in recent years, there is no doubt that interest levels are increasing rapidly and thus, I believe it is fair to say that this interest is slowly turning into increased investment, implementations and influence.”

Jerry Wilmink, Ph.D., chief business officer for CarePredict, agrees that signs are pointing upward for increased technology adoption.

“Technology has a major influence on the senior living industry, largely because we are in the midst of the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” he says. “This is the fourth major industrial era since the initial Industrial Revolution of the 18th century. The 4IR is characterized by a ‘big bang’ and fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical and digital spaces.”

This fourth revolution, Wilmink says, is marked by the ubiquitous nature of wireless connectivity, miniaturization of sensors that collect big data, the internet of things and artificial intelligence — specifically machine learning and deep learning. Of those developments, he says artificial intelligence has the most influence.

“Fueled by connected devices, wearables and the data that they generate, AI is in full swing and is both powering and impacting our everyday lives,” Wilmink says. “Whether you are using Google maps to find the shortest commute to work or scheduling a hair appointment for your mother by voice command, the use of AI has disrupted nearly every industry and it is now set to modernize the senior living industry.”

Advancement of AI

AI is progressing rapidly in the field of medicine, and a newly developed offshoot called artificial emotional intelligence is now taking root, which has potentially profound application for healthcare and, specifically, long-term care.

BPU Holdings, a technology company dedicated to developing AEI in healthcare, is working with the National Science Foundation and University of Arizona in a collaboration currently called SeVA to create a digital nurse assistant, designed to track patients’ emotions. Proponents see the future of AI and healthcare as being able to use AEI to engage patients and track their daily patterns and medication and assess physical symptoms outside the doctor’s office.

Should emergencies occur, the application of this AI technology would be that the digital assistant may alert hospitals and physicians within minutes based on the recorded data from the patient’s emotional state.

For the long-term care and senior living environments, this digital device — known as aiMei — will be used to recognize early signs of dementia and inform the medical team, says geriatric physician Nimit Agarwal, M.D., an integral member of the SeVA research team.

With nurses and care teams unable to provide continued direct observation of the patient population, windows of “unsupervised care” get created, where the patient is not being directly observed, Agarwal says.

“This window leads to adverse events like falls, further cognitive impairment and increased risk of depression and dementia due to poor cognitive stimulation,” he says. “In addition, for patients requiring direct observation care, it also adds a burden on the patient’s family from a social, economic and physical perspective.”

Currently, no AEI devices are geared to the geriatric population and people with dementia, but Agarwal says they are on the horizon for the senior living industry.

“With SeVA functionality, we can cater to this growing patient population through the whole spectrum of healthcare, including acute, post-acute and long-term care facilities,” he says. “The possibilities for SeVA in this regard are limitless, and we are just starting to know what it is capable of to change the healthcare structure for senior living.”

‘Non-care’ tools

Because senior living is such a competitive marketplace, operators may find an edge with certain technologies — specifically those that deal with the non-care aspects of the business, says Josh Malbogat, director of senior living for Dude Solutions.

“Care is becoming more and more of a standard expectation, with resident service-related elements becoming essential to operators looking to differentiate themselves from competitors,” he says. “Residents are now demanding access to the same technologies they had while living and working independently, and operators are being pushed to adapt.”

A prime example of this is the simple act of getting maintenance to fix something in a resident unit, Malbogat says.

“It used to be acceptable to simply stop by the front desk, write out a form and check back in a few days,” he says. “Now, residents expect a self-sufficient process in which they submit a request and check the status themselves — all in real time. The same is true for family members — they want online access with the ability to self-service. The great thing about this is that it not only delivers great resident service, it actually increases the productivity of the staff by offloading the process of manually checking for status updates.”

Although technologic innovations have been established and growing for some time, the long-term care and senior living sectors have been challenged about how to select, adopt and deploy systems in a way that will benefit their residents.

Travis Palmquist, vice-president and general manager of senior living for PointClickCare, acknowledges that senior living providers are receptive to concepts but that “execution has sometimes been difficult due to a lack of resources.”

For example, having a chief information officer or team of systems analysts in a senior living community is still in an embryonic stage, he says.