HHCN FUTURE: Exploring the Future of Technology in Home Healthcare

This article is sponsored by CDW. This article is based on a Home Health Care News discussion with Liz Cramer, Healthcare Strategist at CDW and Sheri Rose, CEO and Executive Director of Thrive Center Inc. This discussion took place on August 31, 2023 during the HHCN FUTURE Conference. The article below has been edited for length and clarity.

Home Health Care News: I know this is a topic that a lot of you have been talking about for the last couple of days, and a lot of you want to learn a lot more about, and we have two great panelists on stage to help out with that. Sheri, first of all, can you explain the Thrive Center, what you do, what your mission and vision is?

Sheri Rose: We are a nonprofit innovation center out of Louisville, Kentucky. All types of technologies that are the future of us aging wherever we may want to be. Our vision is to transform quality of life and care for an aging population. As we do that, we explore a lot of technologies that are startups just being introduced into the ecosystem. As a nonprofit, we don’t sell out of there. We’re more educational. We like to focus on the possibilities for aging in place. We see technologies from all over the globe that we take into the Innovation Center.


In addition to being in that physical space, we also have what we call the Thrive Alliance. The Thrive Alliance is a group of providers from across the US, from California, to New Hampshire, that want to be the early adopters of technologies. Many of them are faith-based non-profits. We do have some for-profits, but they’re really looking at bringing about quality of life for their residents.

HHCN: Then how do the Thrive Center and CDW work together?

Liz Cramer: CDW and the Thrive Center is a partnership. As CDW has grown, Healthcare has become its own vertical with account managers focused on post-acute and senior living industry, acute/hopsital and ambulatory space. Sheri and I worked very closely together because, again, within CDW, as we’re working with the providers out there, we want to make sure we’re looking at the new technology that’s coming out into the industry for home health, skilled nursing and on senior living campuses, but also aging in place, and what that looks like.


Sheri and I collaborate on all kinds of discussions, and with new startups and technologies coming into the space, and it’s great to be able to bounce ideas off and talk with customers about it as well.

Rose: If I might add to that, from the very beginning, we were founded in 2017, and I am a co-founder. As we were designing the center of what we wanted to be, we wanted it to be immersive. We wanted to show innovation in action, and CDW was there from the very beginning on helping us with that design, and providing an infrastructure, because when we look at the future of technology, it’s going to require an infrastructure in place, and that’s key to what CDW does. Buildings where many of them are very old, a lot of these future technologies are not going to work.

CDW is huge in the acute care space, but they wanted to look at post-acute. I applaud them for leading out into senior care, because as many of you all know, there’s been a lack of technology. I was actually with AT&T in Bell South. Before I retired, I was doing some consulting and then co-founded the Thrive Center. I looked at the post-acute players where they didn’t have the opportunity to adopt EMR. Many of y’all know that it all went to the hospitals, and with the hospitals, they got meaningful use incentives to adopt EMR technology. Post-acute was left behind. We’re really working very closely with them and CDW to bring technology into the post-acute market, whether it be in a facility or at home.

HHCN: Obviously, home-based care providers, for the most part, care for seniors in their homes. I want to go through some of the biggest challenges that seniors do face when they’re aging in place.

Cramer: As we’re looking at technologies that are coming into this space, whether it be from the home healthcare provider or from the family, the infrastructure is always a challenge, but then the challenges of digital literacy are also there. I think COVID really moved seniors to use technology, and they’re not going backwards.

Even though there’s lots of discussion that our older adults don’t necessarily want to use technology, it’s not that they don’t want to use it, they just need some education and some confidence in being able to use it. Some of that challenge is, it’s not necessarily that they don’t want to use it, they just don’t know how, and they’re not really sure where to go to ask for help. Sometimes the family members are not the best ones to provide that education because it can be a little frustrating. Those are some of the challenges we’re seeing, because, again, we think they don’t want it, but once they get it and they start using it and they get used to it, there’s no going back.

Rose: I get asked all the time, will older adults adopt technology? Absolutely. If you came into the Thrive Center, you would see VR technology, you’ll see programs. What we like to do is take technology. When I say innovation in action, we invite them in, and we engage them in those technologies. They may be in a program for gait and balance. They may be in stroke recovery with a, it’s a product out of Switzerland that we have. I always tell the post-acute players that you have to prepare for the baby boomers.

I’m a baby boomer. I have to tell you, technology’s not new to me. I had the first bag phone, and so I’ve gone along with technology over the years. I always tell the care providers that you have to prepare for these baby boomers because we’re going to come in with all the devices that we’re now using in our home. I have two daughters, and they’ll demand it because that’s how they communicate.

Now when we look at moving care to home, I do believe that’s where it’s going. You’ve heard a lot of discussion on aging in place, and where is that? Is it an independent living where there’s congregate living? Is it in the home? We are seeing so many technologies that can monitor that person in the home. I think you will see technology be adopted, so prepare for the baby boomers.

HHCN: For the future of tech in home healthcare, how do startups get into discussions with Thrive and CDW? How does that relationship start?

Rose: We have a lot of partnerships. We’re also a technical and business advisor to the National Institute on Aging. I mentor a lot of startups. I’m now doing a boot camp challenge with NIA mentoring a startup. We see them at the very early stages with a system that they plan to sell into. They have to understand the reimbursement structure, who’s going to pay for that technology.

We also see companies that come in globally. The companies that come in from other countries with maybe a single-payer system, they enter the US, they talk to us, and we have to really train them on that product. May have worked in Israel. It’s not going to work in the US unless you change your business model. Very different from a single-payer system, as you all know, when you’re talking about reimbursement models. We also have a partnership with the Center for Aging, Brain Health Innovation in Canada.

I have a company coming in here in a few weeks. They have a product for stroke recovery. I invite providers and people to come into the Thrive Center to see the products. We really drive adoption in a lot of different ways, and we’re very collaborative. We work with a lot of students and I engage those students into research with the products. I just finished mentoring three occupational therapy students working on their doctoral capstone. They get to learn the future of what these technologies can do, and the community gets to engage in them as well.

HHCN: Liz, anything to add?

Cramer: From a CDW standpoint, and with Thrive, for those that don’t know, CDW is a services and solutions technology provider/company. We don’t make anything. We partner with technology providers. A lot of times, a lot of my role is looking at the new technologies that are coming into the space, meeting with them, and working with them to scale the product. I come from the provider side. I’m a physical therapist assistant by background, and worked in the industry prior to coming to CDW. It’s really nice to be able to see the solutions and technology coming into the industry, and, like Sheri said, we talk with them about the fact that, ‘Hey, this is how the industry works, this is how the payment system works. This is not going to work.’ If we adjust your model a little bit, and then potentially look at, is this something that we’re really missing at CDW that we could take to the market as part of a solution that we’re taking out to our customers.

HHCN: Especially at a time when rate cuts are prevalent in home healthcare, there’s going to be providers looking at different technologies. The care-at-home trend is becoming so popular that more and more technologies are coming into the space, which can be overwhelming for providers. How do you help providers sift through all that and make sure they’re really landing on solutions that will help them and their patients?

Cramer: We really look at, one, what’s the problem you’re trying to solve? I think it can be overwhelming. There’s so many solutions coming into the industry. We saw a huge influx with COVID, and they just keep coming. Trying to sift through that is difficult. Sheri and I do spend a lot of time with the solutions, but really looking at those that are continuing to grow. Just my two years with CDW, there’s a few different solutions that I saw initially when I came in that I was like, “I don’t know if these are going to work.” We’ve stayed connected, and they’ve continued to grow and add on, and even connecting solutions that are, I see one that does one thing and another compliments it well so if they come together that is really solving a problem.

HHCN: Sheri, I know you mentioned a few already, but what are some of the more interesting innovations that you think are happening in the space?

Rose: We have a smart home. That’s the focal point of the center. In the smart home, we’ve seen a lot of technologies that are now getting out into the provider market and being adopted. One, it’s called Toi Labs. It’s TrueLoo. It’s a smart toilet seat.

The founder was a Harvard engineer. It analyzes the output of that individual. You can tell a lot about that individual from their output. You can pick up on change in condition. They can denote dehydration, colorectal cancer. They’ve actually picked up on pancreatic cancer. Also on UTIs. Let’s think about it. When do you usually know? A lot of older adults will not realize they have a UTI. They present with confusion or a fall. Now you’ve got further complications. They first put it in their memory care unit because someone with dementia is not going to tell you what’s going on, but they were able to cut falls. They’re now expanding it throughout their personal care. To think of something like that, being in the home to catch someone early and to pick up on change in condition. That’s one product.

We’re looking at smart chairs and smart beds. The first thing I would tell you is, it depends on the stage, because not every technology is going to work for every person at that particular stage of aging. Where a watch for wandering might work today, tomorrow, that person with dementia is not going to wear that watch. I’ve had some entrepreneurs say, “We’ll lock it down on them. They won’t take it off.” It’s like, “No, you won’t.”

I cared for my mother who passed in 2019 with Alzheimer’s. I learned a lot about the agitation and frustration. What I’m looking at now, because there are a lot of technologies, is the non-intrusive motion detection within the home.

There’s been a lot of discussion on AI. I almost look at artificial intelligence as a buzzword that can solve some of these problems. Do I know if they got out of bed? Are they on the floor? Did they go to the refrigerator? Those are the things that we’re looking at.

Then we have a product from Israel Intuition Robotics that’s a social companion robot called ElliQ and it’s proactive. Does it work for everybody? No. They actually launched out of Louisville at Thrive in Naples, Florida. They sent me 20 of them. I had a few of them come back.

As Liz talked about loneliness and isolation, everybody, during COVID, came out of the woodwork with a product to solve loneliness and isolation. It’s not new. It’s been around forever, but what happened is we experienced it during COVID ourselves when we didn’t have an opportunity to reach out and touch and communicate with a lot of our family members. The state of New York, bought 900 ElliQ’s and distributed them throughout the state of New York into the rural areas. We are now seeing a lot of the states look at what products can help for aging in place and at home.

HHCN: We were talking earlier about sometimes it’s actually the patient that you have to convince on the technology. “Hey, we’re going to put this in your home.” Well, a lot of them say, “No, you’re not.” How do you get through that barrier where you’re having the patient trust the process?

Cramer: With regards to that technology coming into the home for the patient/resident and them not wanting it, a lot of times, that discussion also has to be with the family, because that technology is not only there to support the patient/resident, and hopefully help to keep them aging in place where they want to be from a safety standpoint, but also for the family members that aren’t living there, that maybe live out of state that need to know that mom or dad or grandma or grandpa or whoever is okay.

A lot of these technologies have that ability for not only the care provider, whether it be home health or senior living community, to learn daily activity patterns and when the patient/resident is up and moving around or their day-to-day movement. Many times, it’s the family that also wants the communication as well, the AI on the back end to know and alert them if something changes. This automation gives care staff time back in their day versus calling family members to report if the family has already been notified. I agree with Sheri as AI being that buzzword, but really the exciting benefit is how are we using it to be proactive in providing that care, or be preventative in providing care as well?

HHCN: I just want to give a minute for final thoughts, advice, call to action, just anything that you would like to end with, Sheri or Liz.

Cramer: I would just say final thoughts would be, I think we’ve provided care, the same way for many, many years, and it’s a bit of a culture shift, so my call to action is, let’s continue to think outside the box, and how can we make this work as we continue to see the number of older adults continuing to rise, wanting to live at home, and what does that look like? Again, thinking outside that box to what’s available for us to provide that care.

Rose: I would quickly add to that two things. One, entrepreneurs struggle going into the home because it’s a B2C market. That’s very difficult. Partner, as a home health organization, partner with those entrepreneurs, because if they’re collecting that data, they have to be able to hand it off to someone who is clinical that can take action. Look at partnerships.

Then the second thing I would say is, become part of a value-based organization, because that’s what they need. If you’re going to do value-based care, I think the payers are going to have to pick an organization, partner with a technology provider, and if you can deliver, and you can, we know you can through technology, that you can drive healthcare outcomes. That’s what you’re going to have to prove for these value-based organizations to partner with you.

CDW is a leading multi-brand technology solutions provider to business, government, education and healthcare customers in the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada. Our broad array of offerings range from hardware and software to integrated IT solutions such as security, cloud, data center and networking. Learn more at www.cdwg.com/seniorcare.

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