True Innovation Needed in Senior Living

CAST | August 14, 2019 | by Donna Childress

Operators need to fully commit to technology and fully “get” how it can bring a better lifestyle to the people we serve, says a tech entrepreneur.

True innovation in senior living technology is more rare than people think, according to “Confessions of a Tech Entrepreneur: Old-School Senior Living Operators Just Don’t ‘Get’ Innovation,” a recent article in Senior Housing News.
“Everyone is talking about major industry challenges (shrinking demand, negative stereotypes, shifting attitudes) without really doing anything drastically different,” said an industry tech entrepreneur whose identity was kept confidential to allow honest opinions. Read on for highlights from this forthright interview.

How innovative senior living is when it comes to technology:

While many people are creating pilots and prototypes, “the dots aren’t being connected past the pilot stage, so it’s impossible to make a true impact.”
“We need more people who actually live and breathe innovation. We need people who can differentiate between unproven prototypes and well-established products, and can devote resources and structure deals accordingly. We need people who can see and clearly communicate the value alignment, and who are willing to take the steps and time and energy necessary to see that value alignment come to fruition.”

Biggest obstacles preventing senior living operators from being more innovative in their adoption and use of technology:

Budget misappropriation. “The difference in scale between a community’s marketing budget and activities budget is nonsensical—especially when today’s consumer looks at lifestyle as a key feature.”

Biggest pet peeves in working with prospective senior living clients or current clients:

“I can point to dozens of people who have big ideas about the grand entrance of their new building, but I can’t point to more than a handful of people who take a really strong product-driven approach to the life that you’ve stepped into once the grand entrance is behind you.”

Advice for a mid-sized senior living operator that wants to become more innovative with technology:

“Be more candid! If you don’t know what you’re talking about when it comes to innovation and how to weave it into your storytelling or as a component of your branding, say that! If you’re working with the right technology partner, they can help you craft the story and the plan, and define success metrics that are not totally arbitrary.
“Don’t think of innovation as an expense, treat it as an investment. There’s a huge difference between a barrier preventing you from doing anything right now, and a limitation setting the parameters on the extent of what you can do right now.”

What this tech entrepreneur wishes more senior living operators understood:

“We’re actively working to redefine the stereotype that’s limiting your own growth. We’re not some enemy budgeting line item to be scoffed at, we’re allies in the greater mission of improving the aging process, and showing that senior living is a viable (and perhaps, preferable!) option for our loved ones and eventually ourselves!” 

On the senior living technology space and startups:

“As an operator evaluating a potential innovation partner, here’s a baseline framework of questions I would consider prioritizing:

  • Does your executive team have a personal experience and background in the space?
  • Is the senior living industry your primary target market? If so, why are you focused on this space?
  • Who are your major partners and how do they contribute to your success and our success?
  • Can you clearly define the problem you’re addressing? Can you show clear data that your solution successfully addresses this problem?
  • Can you explain how your product fits along the continuum of care? Is this an investment that is limited and targeted at one level, or can you show that it flexibly applies to multiple levels of care?
  • How much actual user testing have you done with seniors and staff? Have you done this testing with each level of care that you mentioned?
  • Do you have a proactive community-facing team that’s going to make sure my investment in this innovation is carried through successfully?”

The most rewarding part of your job:

“I love hearing stories about how a community has been impacted by our product. I cannot explain how satisfying it is to see the light shining in a staff member’s face as they relay the moments of joy they’ve experienced as the result of their leadership team’s decision to actively invest in innovation.”
Read the full interview.