Each participating provider took a slightly different approach to choosing, implementing, and utilizing a social connectedness and engagement system, and shared the factors that led to their success, as well as the lessons they learned, and their advice to others. Below is a summary of lessons learned and advice from all the case studies:
Planning and Implementation
- Get early buy-in and support from departmental management and staff, not just senior leadership. Provide enough time and support to those staff members who are unfamiliar with the technology.
- Select the target population of participants carefully to ensure that they would be willing and able to use the technology, engage, and benefit from the programs offered.
- It is important to study a new technology and evaluate it objectively and quantitatively for a certain period of time at a trial community. Take time to identify the most appropriate trial community and closely track the results. This helps you avoid the pitfall of expanding a new program too quickly. Lessons learned from the trial period can be also used to adjust and enhance the program when shared with other communities, increasing its likelihood of success.
- Wi-Fi is a crucial factor to launching many of the social connectedness and engagement technologies, which require a strong, reliable, and private Wi-Fi network that can support the technology. If Wi-Fi coverage and signal strength is weak, the technology may cause drop-outs, delays in refreshing information, may need to be set up over and over every time it disconnects from the internet, which can cause frustration and drop in use.
- Don’t try to do everything at once when implementing technology. Set goals for your team and your organization and give deadlines for each of the milestones that are over a period of time. Remember that adoption and behavior changes are always challenging; make sure you allow time for adoption.
- Recognizing that residents/ clients form bonds with direct care and support staff, including dining and maintenance staff, providers should recognize the potential role these staff members may have and contributions they can make. All staff members should share feedback and observations about the social connectedness and engagement solution implemented during and after the initial implementation/ trial. Consequently, the whole team should be made aware of the program when it was rolled out to all communities.
- Convert some historical items (e.g., the monthly calendar of activities) into technical versions of something that looks familiar.
- Managers should understand that employees may not immediately see the benefits to the organization as a whole. Incentivizing your employees with positive and immediate feedback or other tangible rewards is necessary, because in the end they must personally benefit from using the product or they will not use it.
- When embarking on a program such as social connectedness and engagement, it is very important to be mindful of the unique and personalized needs of each resident/ client. That can be a time-intensive proposition but by taking an individualized approach ensures a marked improvement in their quality of life. Success rate is significantly improved when adhering to a formal participant qualification and enrollment process.
- Find a resident champion to advocate for the social connectedness and Engagement program. It’s beneficial to have a peer talk about their experience using technology rather than staff or other individuals.
- Leverage your participants to improve, refine, and add functionalities to the technology and the services offered.
Marketing and Utilization
- As with many programs, the biggest challenge for social connectedness and engagement technology programs is communication so that residents/ clients, families, staff, and volunteers are aware that the program and the technology solution are available.
- Older adult users may security concerns about their personal information being broadcasted on the internet. Making sure residents had a full understanding of the technology, its security measures, and the different ways they could use it is crucial to the project’s success.
- It is crucial for technology to keep records and track resident/ client logins and use, both for the senior as well as staff and it’s important to keep a record of user information on hand for IT to provide login support.
- You may be able to leverage a technology initially intended for social connectedness to provide services that would generate revenue, like chronic disease management in partnership with others.
- While Social Connectedness and Engagement technology, such as captioned telephones, make it easier for individuals with hearing loss to connect socially. However, we must remember that, as with any other technology designed to improve social connectedness, the quality and frequency of social interactions depend on the person using the technology, as well as family, friends, and caregivers.
- It is important to manage expectations, especially among loved ones of those residents/ clients participating in the program. Care providers must strike the balance of encouraging hope, but remaining realistic about the potential timeframe for seeing results and factors affecting those results. Communicating this balance early and often is vital.
- Offer on-going training, especially with residents/ clients and even some staff who are not as comfortable with the technology. Users who have trouble seeing or keeping a steady hand as they use touch-screen technology, for example, may need additional support.
- Residents/ clients that have never used technology at all and are extremely reluctant may need additional time to learn. Don’t force new technology on residents. Residents will need to learn at their own pace. One on one training and engagement, which requires time commitment from staff and volunteers, may be needed for some solutions or individual users.
- Conduct smaller (between 10-15 residents at a time) onboarding/training sessions. Larger group technical trainings may not be as effective.
- Find volunteers and residents who will be advocates of the platform to encourage training and use on a daily basis.
- While the vast majority of individuals will be successful with technology, especially easy to use ones like a voice assistant, there will be those who are not able to use the technology for one reason or another.