There's an app for that

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Tech tools are playing a role in virtually every aspect of running a senior living organization.
Tech tools are playing a role in virtually every aspect of running a senior living organization.

Technology is no longer a luxury for senior housing operators; it's a necessity. From resident care to operational management and virtually every other function in-between, new technology tools and programs are helping operators and staff do their jobs more efficiently and effectively.

Perhaps technology's greatest gift is its ability to transform resident care and satisfaction, and improve outcomes. As Majd Alwan, Ph.D., senior VP of technology, LeadingAge, and executive director for the Center for Aging Services Technologies, explained, “Technology has the potential to improve the accuracy and timeliness of care documentation, shift the paradigm of care from reactive to proactive, support care coordination, improve health and quality of life, and increase efficiencies of caregivers and staff.” 

If that's not enough incentive for operators to get on board, they may also want to consider that technology can give them a strong competitive advantage.

“Incoming seniors and their families are looking at environments where technology is utilized, and they're favoring those entities over those still overtly using paper charts,” noted Maria Moen, VP of Care Innovations at VorroHealth. “Technology implementation can bring the management of resident care and conditions, as well as the surrounding environment, to a level where safety, quality and satisfaction are natural outcomes.”

Technology also can help facilities' bottom line. Doug Fullaway, VP, Senior Living, RealPage Inc., pointed out that technology that helps control purchasing costs and eliminate paper invoices can help facilities be more competitive with their pricing. What's more, it can help operators determine how much staff is really needed, based on residents' needs, which can help facilities make the most of their existing resources, he said.

Broadening the reach

The combination of advancements in wireless and mobile technologies, advanced user interfaces and sensor-based technologies has made applications — like point-of-care documentation by staff and remote monitoring of biometrics, activities and behavior — relevant and easy to use, Alwan noted.

Medication management is one key area being transformed by technology. Some solutions, such as the MatrixCare CareAssist application, combine electronic medication administration records (eMAR) and Point of Care in one application. This gives caregivers the information they need to provide personalized service, while also “reflecting the reality that caregivers in senior living communities wear many hats,” said Kim Ross, Senior Director of Marketing for MatrixCare.

What's more, when the medication management function is electronic, med techs and nurses can be alerted to any missed medications and can take appropriate action in a timely manner, added Eric Kolber, VP of Senior Housing at Yardi Systems Inc. 

“Not only are errors reduced in that way, but operational efficiencies are gained as well,” he pointed out. 

With paper medication administration records, staff must sort through paper at the end of a med pass to look for missed medication — a lengthy and often error-prone process, Kolber continued. “With electronic medication management, the software immediately and effortlessly delivers this information directly to appropriate staff,” he said.

Timeliness of data entry and documentation is another technology advantage that can improve accuracy, especially in senior housing where the pace is fast and caregivers often find themselves managing multiple tasks and caring for multiple residents inside the same general time period. “[This] creates an even wider potential for not documenting every service,” Moen explained. “Inaccuracy is always a possibility, too, if you're not writing what you do and what you see as the moment is occurring.” VorroHealth's application allows for tablet documentation of resident condition and service provided, while allowing for a console view at a full computer for times when overall care delivery management is needed.

Mobile technologies that manage and document care delivery will have a tremendous impact on residents' quality of life, assured Ross: “Caregivers will have their task schedule for the day and information on residents' individual preferences at their fingertips, resulting in efficient, personalized service delivery.”

Experts added technology-enhanced care management can positively impact staffing. Care management takes the mystery out of staffing to meet resident acuity, said Fullaway, and mobile task completion lets staff view task lists specific to each resident and close the loop by marking the task as complete from their smart device.  Based on the resident-specific assessment, the RealPage Care Management software creates a service plan, assigns tasks to caregivers, calculates the cost of providing the service, and creates reports in state-mandated formats. 

Staff retention and satisfaction are other upsides to targeted staffing and scheduling solutions, added Mark Woodka, CEO, OnShift. 

“Our smartphone app for staff increases employee retention by getting staff engaged. Reducing time spent on administrative tasks and automating manual processes frees up more time for care,” he said.

Enhanced interoperability is improving technology's depth, tying together previously disconnected software and hardware to streamline data capture, analysis and dissemination, and reduce redundancies. Resident security solutions are just one example. 

“In the past, a caregiver would carry pagers and hear alarms for many different systems – one for a legacy wired nurse call, another for a mobile pendant alarm, and location-specific alarms for fall management and elopement,” said Laurence Yudkovitch, product manager, Long Term Care at RF Technologies Inc. The Code Alert system allows all systems to be fully integrated and send alerts to caregivers on their preferred device, whether it's a pager, walkie-talkie, Cisco or EnGenius phone, or their mobile device. “This reduces alarm fatigue and makes the facility more homelike.”

Beyond that, technology gives administrators better tools to track resident needs and caregiver efficiency. “Advanced reporting capabilities allow administrators to determine optimal staffing levels and ensure residents are being cared for promptly and accurately,” Yudkovitch added.

Easing transitions 

As organizations strive to run more efficiently, technology makes it easier than ever for them to implement and maintain best practices, and streamline care transition, discharge and intake processes.    

“One of the tasks in a skilled nursing facility during intake is to verify patient eligibility, and have the clinical case manager review and approve the patient for admission,” noted Bud Meadows, executive VP, ABILITY Network. Its eligibility workflow service automates this process and allows patient eligibility to be managed, monitored and updated from the moment of intake to the ongoing care that is delivered.

“Both intake and billing staff have access to the same patient information that can be routed to their work queues. Managers are also provided performance dashboards, so they can measure the effectiveness of their intake programs.” 

ABILITY's new transition of care service lets acute care facilities electronically route referrals and send discharge information directly to SNFs. The SaaS-based service can be deployed in days at a low monthly cost, and helps SNFs, hospitals and home health agencies facilitate the transition of care with communication that replaces phone calls and faxes, Meadows said. 

Technology also allows integration of electronic health records and enterprise resource planning solutions. This integration helps ensure facilities are providing the best care — and the best care setting — for each resident. 

“By connecting these areas in a single system, sales staff can market their communities and manage their leads, and then easily include clinical staff at the appropriate point in the cycle to assess a prospective resident's housing and care needs,” said Kolber, referring to Yardi's Senior Living Suite, which combines a complete ERP solution with the latest EHR technology. “As the cycle continues, proposals are converted to leases, and prospects are moved in as residents — with no redundant data entry, and with billing and accounting staff receiving a 100 percent accurate picture.”

Clicking with residents 

More than ever, technology also is helping residents stay connected and engaged.

“There's a broad array of social connectedness applications, including video conferencing on lightweight tablet computers, that are popular among older adults,” Alwan said. Not only do these devices have simple, user-friendly icons on graphical user interfaces that are activated by touch, but they also come packed with accessibility features, including voice activation, enhanced contrast, large fonts, zoom-in functions, and read-aloud for individuals with vision impairments.

Further, technology can contribute to a positive family experience by allowing family members to stay involved with their loved one's care and activity participation. 

Yardi's software, for example, allows wellness program calendars to be maintained and resident participation tracked through the online Resident & Family portal.

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