By Deric Blattenberger
The digital transformation of healthcare is well underway, with hospital systems increasingly looking to innovative technologies and advanced analytics to improve operations and patient care. As this trend gains momentum, senior living communities are following in their footsteps by embracing digital strategies that enhance the lives of their residents.
Location solutions can be an efficient and cost-effective place to start. Locating technologies support a wide variety of applications especially useful in senior living, from duress response and wander management to contact tracing and advanced resident analytics. The robust reports and alerts enabled by these solutions empower administrators and staff with more information and allow residents to safely maintain a sense of independence.
Location technology and IoT
The Internet of Things (IoT) is the foundation of many location technology applications. It’s also relatively easy to deploy, familiar to many consumers, and affordable compared to other solutions – all factors driving its adoption across several industries, including senior living.
In a senior living community, IoT devices might include resident wearables in the form of a pendant, belt clip or watch, advanced badges for staff, and small asset tags used to track and manage equipment. Wearables assigned to residents and staff enable customized permissions based on the individual’s role or characteristics. For example, access controls can help protect residents impacted by memory loss from inadvertently wandering into an unsafe location.
Wearables also have the potential to go beyond their traditional usage for residents and staff. Pandemic circumstances notwithstanding, family members, clinicians, and vendors, such as housekeeping services, are regularly entering and moving about senior living communities. It is worth considering employing temporary IoT-enabled badges or tags for visitors as well.
Beyond the basics with RTLS
IoT solutions can be deployed on their own or used to integrate real-time location and activity data with existing systems. When a community implements multiple location-based applications together, it’s known as a real-time location system, or RTLS.
Both RTLS and IoT rely, in part, on wireless connectivity. Some location applications can be successfully deployed over traditional Wi-Fi. However, many facilities opt for a private network
to increase system reliability and ensure resident data is secure. RTLS applications that leverage infrared and other advanced technologies can enable greater locating precision for more meaningful data. Some solution providers also offer mobile applications for access to system alerts and data on the go.
While RTLS and IoT provide a real-time view and historical record of the location of people and assets, RTLS goes much further. A consistent flow of information gives staff and administrators the insights they need to make better decisions for individuals and their community.
Below is a deeper exploration of three use cases that can help senior living communities streamline operations and differentiate themselves from market competitors.
Safety and wander management
At many senior living communities, monitoring the safety and welfare of all residents represents a significant challenge for staff. Manual monitoring can put a strain on resources and create gaps in coverage. Additionally, accurate documentation used for compliance reporting or retrospective analysis after an incident has occurred becomes increasingly difficult to obtain.
Location technology can enable communities to design a more comprehensive and efficient monitoring system. Systems with automated data collection and historical record keeping, as well as real-time updates and emergency alerts, allow staff to safely monitor more residents at one time.
Wander management solutions reduce the risk of dangerous wandering events, such as a resident in a memory care community who tries to leave a building unsupervised. In addition to automated alarms, the wearables that enable this solution can be integrated with security controls to restrict access to areas that could present a danger to residents, like a maintenance supply closet or stairwell.
The same technology can also be leveraged to give residents even greater independence. For example, a community could use certainty-based outdoor geofencing and wearables to establish zones that allow residents to safely enjoy campus grounds.
Finally, wearable devices can also act as emergency call buttons to alert staff when urgent assistance is needed. Using wearables in this capacity improves emergency response times and gives staff, residents, and their families peace of mind.
Contact tracing for infection control
Infection control has always been a priority in senior living communities, but COVID-19 has highlighted its importance more than ever before. With vulnerable populations living in congregate settings, contact tracing can be an essential tool for minimizing transmission of a communicable disease.
Location-based contact tracing provides on-demand interaction reports detailing which residents, staff, visitors, and equipment have come in contact with an infected person and for how long. Because it relies on historical data – and not individual memory – location technology makes contract tracing more efficient and more accurate, and since it is an electronic and automated solution, staff members can trust that no data has been lost. Interaction reports can also identify where on a campus the infected person visited to prioritize areas for sanitization.
Enhancing care with analytics
IoT wearables create an invaluable record of data that can provide staff, families, and healthcare providers with an understanding of a resident’s daily routine and the ability to spot worrisome anomalies, like if a resident does not get out of bed. This information can be incredibly useful for balancing resident autonomy with medical intervention. More advanced solution providers offer automated analytics to help detect long-term trends.
Likewise, staff wearables, including pendants and badges, can record and report on important metrics like the duration of time spent with each resident and average response time. This information is important for community administrators to identify operational bottlenecks and optimize workflows, which ultimately results in a better resident experience.
The future is here The pandemic has increased the rate of digital transformation for nearly every sector of the economy. Senior living communities must invest in modern environments to keep pace with consumer expectations and remain competitive.
Location-based IoT offers an affordable way to embrace innovation while making meaningful improvements for residents and staff. And by investing in location solutions today, community leaders can lay a strong RTLS foundation to expand upon as more use cases emerge.
Deric Blattenberger is the director of product management at CenTrak, a visionary in the Gartner Magic Quadrant for indoor location services and market leader in location, sensing, and security solutions for the healthcare industry. CenTrak recently added contact tracing to TruView, an RTLS platform designed for senior living communities.