Branching into Home Care Tech: Senior Living’s Future?
Senior living providers who want to stay dominant in the conversation about caring for the aging population need to take advantage of technology platforms and products that aid aging in place rather than view them as unwelcome competition.
Adding in-home service line extensions using innovative technology is a way to build brand loyalty and expand their potential consumer base.
Providers are mostly split in two camps when it comes to the tech-enhanced age in place approach: embrace it, or avoid it. But those that don’t seek out new technology will be disrupted by others that do, says Louis Burns, CEO of Intel-GE Care Innovations.
Blockbuster, Polaroid, and Borders—all well-recognized, one-time leaders in their respective fields, and all of them bankrupt—got a taste of disruptive technology from the wrong side of the equation.
“Ten years ago, if someone were to say those companies wouldn’t exist [10 years from now], they would’ve been laughed out of the building,” Burns, who was the lead panelist and a judge at the 2013 LTC LinkTank senior care innovation competition, said. “You need to be your own disruptor. If you’re not, someone else will be trying to disrupt your business.”
That mindset is in Care Innovation’s DNA, Burns told SHN, adding that it keeps everyone “hungry and focused.” Senior living should approach the virtual retirement living trend as an opportunity, not direct competition, he says.
“It’s not either/or. It’s in addition to,” he says. “If you’re in a senior living facility, you absolutely have to be in that facility. You need that help, and that’s not going to change.”
Some senior living providers fear virtual assisted living provided in a person’s home will eliminate the need for bricks-and-mortar communities. It won’t, he says.
“It will supplement [traditional communities],” Burns says. “Right now, you see the beginnings of operators running bricks-and-mortars, but also reaching into the community. They’re providing services and capabilities and it’s a great on-ramp. It’s an extension of the business, it’s not a replacement.”
There will be ways to keep people in their homes longer, and more safely, he says. But when considering virtual versus traditional communities, he says, neither is the “winner”—seniors are, because they have options.
A potential direction Burns sees the industry headed toward is for families of seniors to contract part-time care out to big brands, a trend that is starting to materialize among major industry players.
Two of the nation’s largest senior living providers, Brookdale Senior Living and Emeritus Senior Living, have both identified community outreach as an area to explore, evidenced by a growing ancillary services platform and home health agency acquisitions, respectively.
Tech giant Philips recently launched a new service facilitating providers’ reach into seniors’ private residences with the introduction of Community Without Walls, a service package senior living operators can offer to seniors on a subscription basis.
Providers can tailor their CWW service offerings to fit the needs of individual subscribers and are in charge of installing the equipment—ranging from personal emergency response services to medication dispensing services and telehealth solutions—and operating it, with Philips providing back-end support and training.
That concept similar to not-for-profits senior living providers’ CCRC-without-walls model along with other services that offer care to those still living at home.
“‘Mom’ becomes used to that assistance; it’s brand building,” says Burns. “And if they do a good job, she’ll go with what’s been helping her [with things like] light housekeeping, light assistance [with activities of daily living]. She’ll know people at the community and be familiar with it.”
Not many people go into assisted living happily, he points out, as it’s usually a reactive move in response to a life-changing event such as a fall, or adult children moving away and no longer being able to provide caregiving. But building that brand loyalty prior to a move can help.
Care Innovations’ role in all of this is to build the technologies, services, and solutions that enable that, according to Burns.
“At the end of the day, I have a strong belief that if we listen hard, work hard, do our ‘magic’ technology, that we can improve the lives of people along the way,” he says. “It’s not just for the elder, but also for the caregivers.”
Caregiving is incredibly stressful, Burns says, citing research of the impact it can have on caregivers.
“The data of the impact on caregivers is off the charts,” he says. “If we facilitate them and ‘Mom’ it’s a really cool thing for us. It’s not being done very well, and I think we can contribute to that. And it will enhance the business of operators.”
Seniors are going to be staying at home longer in upcoming years, in large part because the next generation is more technologically savvy and more informed.
“If you’re a big senior living operator, is it better to take the chance to lead in going into the home, as an on-ramp, versus denying it?” Burns asks. “For the whole next generation—who will be the competitor who provides that? It’s about building brand loyalty.”
Written by Alyssa Gerace