Archive for the ‘Health Tech’ Category

Is a Surgery in Your Parent’s Future? Verify the Hospital’s Rating Before They Schedule

MPIRICA Rating SystemEarlier this year the American Medical Association (AMA) released a list of high-risk surgeries for adults aged 65 and older. Coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG), spleen surgeries, small bowel and related colon procedures were among the surgeries that made the list. So when families have older loved ones who have to undergo such surgeries, how can they find the best hospital for that procedure?

While you could rely on word-of-mouth or top 10 lists of the region, there is now a purely data-driven resource you should bookmark.

MPIRICA is a newcomer to the Seattle startup scene and was inspired by founder and CEO Shakil Haroon’s search for the best local hospital when a family member required surgery. What he didn’t find was a central place where he could research this potentially life- and cost-saving information. Each year magazines, such as Consumer Reports and U.S. News, produce lists ranking the top hospitals around the nation, but what’s missing are outcomes-based, procedure-level ratings for every public hospital nationwide.

To fill this information void, in 2014 Haroon founded MPIRICA with the goal of developing a ratings system. He soon found that such a ratings system required deep MD level expertise. A search for such expertise led him to partner with MPA HealthCare Solutions and the MPIRICA Quality Score was born. MPA HealthCare Solutions, under the leadership of Harvard-trained cardiologist and MPIRICA co-founder Dr. Michael Pine, is responsible for the analysis used to determine the popular Consumer Reports’ top hospitals issue and other healthcare ratings.

MPIRICA ScoringWe created MPIRICA to deliver ratings based purely on the outcomes achieved by hospitals and surgeons, explains Bob Piper, who is responsible for MPIRICA’s business and technology alliances. The source data for the MPIRICA Quality Score is publically available from the Center for Medicare Services. Any hospital that accepts Medicare and Medicaid is required to provide data, such as type of surgery, cost, adverse effects and patient age. These audited results make it a “great source of data,” Piper says, but we do have to scrub and normalize it, which is where Dr. Pine’s expertise and scoring comes in.

Currently 65 in-patient surgeries and nearly 5,000 hospitals are included in the MPIRICA data. Scores range from a low of 100 to a high of 800. A low score represents a significantly higher risk of an adverse outcome.

Piper says that although out-patient surgeries, which are the most common, are currently not scored, over 25,000 surgeon scores are being added. “If a surgeon has a great score for an in-patient procedure such as total knee replacement, you can be confident in their ability to perform related out-patient surgeries, such as ACL reconstruction,” he says. MPIRICA plans to add scores for out-patient procedures by the fall of 2015.

Hospitals you won’t find are those in the Veteran’s Affairs system, and if a surgery hasn’t been performed at a specific hospital enough times to reach critical mass, it won’t be included since statistical significance hasn’t been reached.

MPIRICA Ranking of CABG Surgeries by HospitalOn MPIRICA’s website, consumers can search for a surgery’s MPIRICA Quality Score at hospitals across the nation for free. And when you pair this search with a list, such as the high-risk surgeries for older adults mentioned earlier, families can make more-informed decisions about the quality and cost of surgical treatments.

For example to find the hospitals which are highly rated for CABG, find its ICD9 code on the AMA list and select this same surgery on the MPIRICA website. (On the MPIRICA website, the period is missing, i.e. the AMA list says 36.14 and MPIRICA is 3614.) Then, select the City and State you live and click Search. In the Seattle area, Harrison Memorial Center, Providence St. Peter Hospital and Providence Regional Medical Center all received a score of 620, which is in the top 25 percent of hospitals nationwide.

My Grandma Wants an Apple Watch (and Other Conundrums of the Wearable Tech Era)

It’s been more than a month since the Apple Watch’s release. You like the idea of Grandma having one so she can stay in contact. But after all the hype, is it worth it? Is it a product that Grandma will actually use? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons to see if the Apple Watch is something Grandma should get.

What is Grandma’s ideal smartwatch?

First things first: You need to ask if Grandma is willing to wear a watch in the first place. If that’s a yes, then you can move onto the next step, which is figuring out what you both want from a smartwatch. On my list for Grandma I have:

  • affordable
  • easy to use
  • long battery life
  • ability to easily send and receive calls and texts
  • ability to call for help in an emergency 

Why an Apple Watch?

The Apple Watch has some exciting features that make it stand out.

  • Notifications—Using Taptic technology, notifications feel like a tap on the wrist. She will no longer miss your messages.
  • Quick responses—Grandma can choose from prewritten text messages or use Siri to reply to you directly from the watch.
  • Customizable watch face—Whether she wants an analog clock, digital numbers or a visualization of the sun’s location in the sky, there’s a watch face Grandma will like.
  • Interchangeable watch band—The watch bands are easy to adjust and easy to change. Grandma can mix and match her styles.
  • Heartbeat sensor—Get an idea of Grandma’s general fitness level by tracking her heartbeat.
  • Fitness tracking—The watch contains an accelerometer that helps determine the wearer’s activity level. Great for encouraging Grandma to stay active.
  • Activity reminder—Does Grandma get stuck on the couch for hours at a time? The watch can tap her to remind her to get up and move so her joints don’t stiffen up.

There is an exciting future for the health applications of the watch. With the heartbeat sensor, an app could alert you if something goes wrong with Grandma’s heart and send for help. But unfortunately, the technology and app development is not quite ready to support this vision yet.

Why Not an Apple Watch?

The Apple Watch is not perfect. As a first generation product, it has many ways it could (and likely will) be improved. Some of its limitations include:

  • Too many notifications—If Grandma gets a lot of notifications on her phone, the constant reminders on her wrist will drive her crazy. You will need to set up filters for her so only the important notifications get through.
  • Battery life—The battery has turned out to be better than expected, but it still should be charged it every night. Forgetting means running low the second day.
  • Not waterproof—Grandma can wash her hands, but she shouldn’t submerge the watch in water.
  • Small screen—The screen is small and can be hard to read with aging eyes. It is difficult to tap precisely on such a small space, even with the digital crown as the main way to navigate.
  • Needs an iPhone—In order to use most of the watch’s functionality, including texting, making calls or using GPS, Grandma will need to have her iPhone nearby. The Apple Watch is a companion device, not a standalone product. This means the watch isn’t a replacement for her phone—she will still need to bring it along in her purse.

The Verdict?

The Apple Watch has a lot of potential, but it doesn’t tick all of the boxes that it needs to. Keep in mind that it is a first-generation product. It will be exciting to see what comes next. For now, there are alternatives that can do a better job at each task for a better price.

The Alternatives

For telling the time, it’s hard to do better than a traditional timepiece. But if Grandma has decided on a smart wearable, you have other alternatives that beat the prices and features of the Apple Watch.

  • For alternative smartwatches, take a look at the Samsung Gear and the Pebble. The Pebble in particular might be a good fit. It’s a standalone piece with a longer battery life and simpler controls.
  • If Grandma likes the fitness aspects of the watch, she should try out a fitness tracker like Fitbit or a posture reminder like Lumo Lift.
  • For the ability to call for help in an emergency, nothing beats a medical alert system. Those that work around the home are entirely waterproof, so Grandma can wear them in the shower and bath where she needs them most.

In conclusion, talk with Grandma about why she’s interested in the Apple Watch, and take her to the Apple store so she can see it for herself. If she’s technologically savvy, she might have a great time with it. But this technology is new, and is bound to get even better in the next version. For now, there are other products on the market that will better fit her needs.

Shayne Fitz-Coy is the Co-CEO and President of Alert-1, an aging-in-place technology company headquartered in Williamsport, Pennsylvania with offices nationwide. A Certified Aging in Place Specialist, Shayne has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Harvard College and a master’s in Business Administration from the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Shayne hails from Maryland, and now calls the Bay Area home.

5 Tech Trends in Senior Living

Having all the comforts of home isn’t a new trend in a senior living community, as efforts in recent years have shifted the focus to making senior living settings as homelike as possible. That said, today’s senior generation is accustomed to having easy access to technology such as Wi-Fi, smartphones and tablets, HD televisions with on-demand video, and other technology that many people have in their homes. As such, senior living providers must keep up with the pace of technology to meet the demands of modern seniors who join their communities. Here’s a look at a few current tech trends in senior living communities.

1. Electronic health records are the norm.

Gone are the days of paper progress notes and tattered manila folders holding a resident’s complete medical history. Electronic health records are making staff more efficient and allowing for better coordination of care among providers. As electronic health records become standard industry-wide, antiquated practices, such as faxing patient records to a physician or other healthcare provider, are slowly going by the wayside. But along with the increased use of digital record keeping comes the risk of a data breach.

2. Data breach insurance has become a necessary thing in the senior living industry.

Senior living providers, which handle sensitive resident information and generate protected health data, must comply with HIPAA regulations and maintain strict confidentiality and data protection measures. With more senior living providers maintaining electronic health records, the volume of data obtainable by hackers increases substantially every day. The cost of a data breach is simply too high to risk, and as data breaches become increasingly commonplace, senior living providers are looking to data breach insurance in order to minimize some of the risks in the event of a data breach.

3. Remote monitoring benefits providers and residents alike.

Historically, memory care units have maintained locked units and strictly monitored premises to protect residents who may be prone to wandering. Remote monitoring technology takes the safety of wander-prone residents to a new level, offering alert mechanisms that notify staff the moment a resident has wandered into unsafe territory and provide precise location tracking so that residents may be quickly brought back to safety. The same technology is being used to help seniors maintain their independence in their own homes longer.

4. Wi-Fi everywhere is a must.

Senior living campuses are increasingly providing campus-wide Wi-Fi for both residents and staff. Senior living staffers with ready access to Wi-Fi can communicate rapidly with other staff, order prescriptions and perform a variety of tasks that would otherwise rely on time-consuming phone calls and faxes. For residents, the need for Wi-Fi has never been more clear. Today’s seniors are more tech savvy than ever before, and they demand the ability to continue using their smartphones, laptops, email and social networking services following a move to a senior living community. Anything less is unfathomable to modern seniors.

5. Tech-supported caregiving.

Provider Magazine highlights some of the many tech innovations that are improving the lives of senior living residents everywhere. From sensors that detect soiled incontinence products to predictive analytics models that help healthcare providers predict which residents are likely to develop illnesses or complications, such as pulmonary problems, there are a slew of new technologies that promise to make caring for aging adults simpler and more effective. Some of these innovations are in development, while others are in Beta or being tested or utilized in senior living communities already. In the coming years, we expect to see more widespread, industry-wide adoption of these tech innovations.

It’s an exciting time to work in the senior living field, and seniors who will be making a move to a senior living community in the coming years stand to benefit from new and improved methods of care delivery, more comprehensive services, access to the latest technology tools and gadgets, and so much more.

It’s Time for Seniors to Embrace the Internet of Things

You’ve likely heard of the Internet of Things (IoT), but if you don’t actually know what it is, you’re not alone. In fact, even purveyors of the Internet of Things at times aren’t sure how to actually define this growing concept and collection of … things. In a nutshell, the Internet of Things is a term used to describe the ever-growing network of connected devices, or, if you will, “smart gadgets.” With 45 million people (and growing) in the U.S. in their senior years, and more and more seniors opting to age in place, the Internet of Things holds much promise. We contend that seniors should embrace the Internet of Things. You may just be surprised how much better and easier life can be when you do.

Today’s seniors are tech-savvy

The days of grandma or grandpa not having the first clue how to use a computer or cell phone are fast diminishing. Today’s seniors are used to technology, and it’s not uncommon for older adults to use email and the Internet regularly. Some, in fact, use it every day. According to Pew Internet, 6 out of 10 seniors now go online, and nearly 50% of all seniors have high-speed broadband Internet access in their homes. And, older Internet users cite the benefits of having information from the Internet in their lives: 79% of senior Internet users agree that people without the Internet are at a disadvantage because of the information they miss, and 94% agree that “the Internet makes it much easier to find information today than in the past.”

But, seniors are not just embracing the Internet and email. A PewResearch study showed that 2012 marked the first time that half of Americans 65 and older were online, and at that time 7 in 10 seniors owned a cell phone and one-third of seniors were using social networking sites such as Facebook. Laurie Orlov, author of an AARP study and principal analyst of Aging in Place Technology Watch, a marketing research firm in Florida, told the Denver Post that seniors are adopting technology out of necessity and “there are fewer and fewer good excuses for avoiding it if you can afford it.” Tealy Baumgartner, a tech-savvy grandma in her 90s, received an iPad from her grandson and was hesitant to accept the gift until she “learned that you can’t mess it up” and uses it to read her hometown newspaper, search for recipes and knitting patterns, and send emails and photos to family members.

Additionally, a study on seniors and the Internet conducted by professors of marketing at the University of California Irvine, Temple University, and California State University Long Beach determined that seniors are adopting technology more than ever, but they face “unique barriers to usage” because they previously had not used them in work situations and commonly have physical limitations that make using computer and the Internet more difficult. However, when seniors learn how to use the technology or other devices such as tablets with touchscreens and built-in assistive technology, they are enthusiastic and “express strong openness to learning.” The seniors in the study most frequently noted cultural currency as the reason for wanting to adopt technology.

Several programs are being offered across the country to help seniors learn how to use technology, including those at senior centers, in conjunction with programs matching teens with seniors, and others. In New York City, seniors can take advantage of free tech training classes being offered by Older Adults Technology Services (OATS). With support from the U.S. Department of Commerce and the City of New York, 23 new public computer centers have been built in neighborhoods throughout the city. Each new facility contains 300 computers, available for seniors to use free of charge. In Kansas City, Arts Tech, a youth organization working with underserved urban teens to help them develop marketable artistic and technical skills, is training teens to teach seniors about using computers and the Internet. The Kansas City Digital Inclusion Fund, money made available to nonprofits seeking to close the digital divide, is funding the project to match teens and seniors for technology lessons. And, in Colombia, Md., teens from the Colombia Association’s Youth and Teen Center the the Barn are working with seniors from the 50+ Center at the East Colombia Branch of the Howard County Library System to teach them new technology. The program was created after the Senior Center received a donation of several iPads.

Once seniors know how to use the technology, it becomes part of their everyday lives. According to the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, among older adults who use the Internet, 71% go online every day or nearly every day, and an additional 11% go online between 3 and 5 times a week. And, seniors are increasingly purchasing tablets or e-book readers: 27% of seniors own a tablet, an e-book reader, or both, while only 18% own a smartphone. If seniors are tackling these devices, they surely can handle IoT products, which typically involve automatic notifications and require little, if any, manual control.

New Technologies Suited to Seniors

According to a report in Government Health IT, new technologies that address the needs and problems of seniors will be essential. By 2050, the number of Americans 65 and older is set to double, to more than 80 million, and the number of heads of household aged 70 or older is expected to increase by 42%, to 28 million, by 2025, according to research by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University. Moreover, a survey by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) found that almost 90% of Americans, including those older than 70, want to age in place for at least the next 5 to 10 years of their lives.

As the American population ages, and as the digital health field expands, technologies addressing the unique challenges of aging in place will become more of a reality. Great strides already have been made to improve aging, with the emergence of companies like BrainAid, True Link and Lively. Seniors who want to age in place need to be as independent as possible, and BrainAid produces PEAT, an Android app that provides cognitive aids for independent living. Seniors with Alzheimer’s, dementia, or memory loss receive help with tasks through cueing and scheduling assistance. Finances can be a hindrance to aging in place, so True Link provides financial safety for seniors; it features on and off switches for caregivers or children to help aging parents manage their money by blocking purchases, setting spending limits, sending alerts about suspect charges, and more. Concerns over loved ones aging in place also can hinder the process, and Lively helps caregivers and children keep tabs on elderly family members. Lively’s activity sensors monitor movements in the home and their Safety Watch gives medication reminders, keeps track of steps, and includes an emergency button. These are just a few of the many companies that are developing technologies to make aging in place a reality for seniors.

IoT and “Smart Aging”

One of the most important benefits of seniors choosing to embrace the Internet of Things is that it has the power to transform their lives. W. David Stephenson, a leading IoT strategist, theorist, and writer, focuses on “smart aging” and encourages seniors to use “a combination of wearable devices and smart home devices to allow seniors to age in place with dignity, improved health, and lower expenses.” In an April 2014 blog post, Stephenson explains the ways in which the IoT can benefit seniors, from helping them to become partners in their health care through self-monitoring to aiding them while they live alone, miles away from family.

Stephenson suggests that seniors take advantage of IoT products such as bedroom slippers with sensors to detect variations in a senior’s gait and alert caregivers by an app. There also are necklaces that detect the onset of congestive heart failure. Stephenson asserts that these IoT products will take some pressure off of elderly patients who need to recall their symptoms at doctor’s appointments and actually will give more information to doctors because they can measure what is happening with the patient: “the patient will generate a constant stream of data, and, over time, we will evolve efficient ways of reporting the spikes in readings to the doctor in a way that might actually trigger preventive care to avoid an incident, or at least provide an objective means of judging its severity to improve the quality of care.”

IoT Empowers Seniors to Age In Place

Sometimes, seniors just need to get past the fear of the newness and embrace the technology that can enhance their lives and keep them connected to their loved ones and hobbies while they age in place. Once they do, they realize all of the potential uses and benefits of using smart gadgets. Many are actually quite simple to use after initial set-up and provide useful capabilities. The most common IoT products that help seniors to age in place include…

  • Controlling lighting, security systems, and appliances with a mobile device
  • Providing continuous monitoring and sensors to alert loved ones or health providers of accidents
  • Issuing medication reminders
  • Offering reminders to turn off the stove, or even automatic shut-off functionality
  • Wearable health sensors for remote healthcare services

Additional Links to IoT Information For Seniors:

Images via Flickr by Hannah and Jo Christian Oterhals

Health Tech, Wearable Gadgets in the Spotlight at CES 2014

For many of us, the New Year brings a sense of renewal, motivation to meet our goals in the coming year, a commitment to a healthy lifestyle, and a whole bunch of optimism and feel-good vibes.For technology enthusiasts, it also brings the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) where gadget makers show off their latest mind-boggling innovations in Las Vegas. This year, the health and fitness sector is getting a lot of attention, as more wearable devices that help us get and stay healthy and tools for managing health and wellness are beginning to reach the market. This year’s event wrapped up last week, on January 10th.

Aging technology solutions is a growing market

Fox Business cites the aging population as a driver behind the growing trend. “Three medical technology stories to watch in this arena will be wearable technologies for fitness, aging-in-place technologies, and real-time monitoring, which all tackle problems stemming from an aging population and facilitate a digital transition to a more consumer-centric approach to healthcare,” says author John D. Korry. Tech for Seniors

Healthcare consumers are now more informed and take a more active role in their own care, which is why the industry at large is emphasizing its focus on patient-centered care. “It’s all about earlier detection of issues, delivery of care in a manner least invasive to a person’s living standards, and use of data to take a more proactive role in personal health — enabled by digital technologies and applications,” Korry says.

Remote care and monitoring products make an impact

Standout products at this year’s CES mostly center on technologies that aid aging-in-place. According to business news and analysis site FT.com, exhibits from the digital health sector grew by 40 percent compared to last year. One example is MD Live, a company enabling patients to schedule appointments with doctors via the television screen. Patients have access to more than 3,000 physicians who can treat minor ailments remotely and send prescriptions to patients’ local pharmacies. Tied to the Affordable Care Act, MD Live’s service is contracted with Nevada’s Exchange in addition to 400 major companies, including the likes of Yahoo and Qualcomm.

AgeinPlaceTech.com identifies 10 technologies emerging from CES 2014 that could prove valuable for seniors and caregivers, such as CarePredict, which demonstrated a product called CarePredict Tempo at this year’s event. The gadget itself is a $99 bracelet that packs the wearer’s movement, location and motion. Additional room beacons can be added for $19 each. This data is sent to the cloud, meaning caregivers can monitor aging loved ones while at work or even from afar. There are also alert capabilities, which notifies caregivers if patterns are detected that could indicate danger. Check out CarePredict.com for more details.

Fall prevention from afar and tools connecting caregivers with providers

Other wearable devices and remote monitoring tools were also showcased at CES 2014, and some take a slightly different approach. SenseGiz, for instance, is a fall detection device to notify family and friends with an alarm and text alert so they can obtain help quickly. There’s also a panic button for emergencies and an option to post a Facebook update to alert more family and friends. With three sensitivity levels for fall detection, this gadget is a valuable tool for seniors living independently or living with family members but alone during the work day. Learn more about SenseGiz in this press release.

Senior Housing News also identifies a few standout products unveiled for seniors at CES 2014, including a smart pill box, the Wellograph Watch that tracks vital signs, and Angela Express, a system designed for senior living providers to connect rehab residents their family and friends, and providers via video chat, instant messaging and other communication features. The system facilitates communication between providers and family, helping family members provide proper care and promote wellness, easing the transition from rehabilitation settings to home.

These products are just a few of the latest tech innovations with valuable potential for seniors, caregivers and senior living providers. The best is yet to come, but one thing is clear: Technology is re-shaping the possibilities in senior care and senior living, and new products are making the lives of seniors and caregivers simpler every day.

Image by O_m on Stock.xchng

Article by Angela Stringfellow

Google and Apple Team Up to Fight Aging

Google has its hand in pretty much everything. From search engines to social networking, and now…aging? It’s true: Google has teamed up with Apple in an effort to fight aging through a new initiative called Calico (California Life Company). Calico’s entire mission is to prolong life — with a focus on health and well-being, and particularly, how technology has a positive impact on aging and aging-associated diseases. The main focus will be on diseases such as Alzheimer’s, cancer and heart disease.

Apple, Genentech Chairman Arthur D. Levinson to Head Calico

The effort will be headed by Arthur D. Levinson, chairman and former CEO of Genentech and chairman of Apple, a founding investor who will also serve as the company’s CEO. Levinson will continue to be chairman of Apple and Genentech, in addition to continuing to hold his spot as director of Hoffmann-La Roche. (Side note: It has yet to be revealed how Levinson will manage to find the time to essentially head four major corporations, but perhaps his attempt at the humanly impossible will reveal some clues as to how to slow the aging process.)

Google’s CEO, Larry Page, shares his excitement about what Levinson can bring to the table at Calico in a statement: “Illness and aging affect all our families. With some longer term, moonshot thinking around healthcare and biotechnology, I believe we can improve millions of lives. It’s impossible to imagine anyone better than Art—one of the leading scientists, entrepreneurs and CEOs of our generation—to take this new venture forward.”

What Exactly is Calico’s Approach?

But here’s the thing: No one really knows exactly what Calico will be doing, and anyone who has an inside scoop isn’t spilling any details. It’s not really clear what type of approach Google intends to take to tackle aging. Software? Apps? Diagnostics? It seems some are speculating that Calico will take a “big-data approach” to the problem by amassing huge amounts of data from patients and then conducting sophisticated analysis to advance research. Prevention might also be a major focus.

Calico: Not Just Another Google Health

And this isn’t Google’s first foray into the healthcare scene. Google Health, which aimed to empower patient decision-making through better access to information, was shut down on January 1, 2013. Google didn’t wait long to re-enter the health niche with the announcement of Calico less than a year later.

Google Health, originally launched in 2008, allowed users to upload or import their healthcare records, have prescriptions filled, get lab results, and even get text alerts when it was time to take medications. Calico appears to be taking a broader approach that’s more focused on the big picture of researching, diagnosing, and preventing the diseases associated with aging — rather than a focus on the patient-management side of the puzzle.

According to an article in TechCrunch, one of Calico’s main focuses is to “dramatically extend human life,” by about 100 years. And because today’s patients are more health-savvy (25 percent of smartphone users have downloaded at least one health-related app, and 60 percent of adults seek health info online, TechCrunch says), Calico is hopefully entering the scene at the right time.

While Calico is an interesting avenue for Google to take, one thing’s for sure: If Google sets its mind to it, it’ll happen. It might take a few failed attempts — but Google always rises each time it falls.

Image via bizmaticsinc.com

Post by Angela Stringfellow

Why Technology Matters in Senior Living

Earlier this week, we revealed some details about how our call center technology works. But why does it matter? Does it really matter at all? It’s actually critically important – both for seniors and their families who call us and the customers that we, SeniorHomes.com, serve. Here’s why.

Families are desperately seeking help

Searching for senior housing can be a grueling, frustrating experience. Families are faced with so many options, so many choices, and given so much information at a time when they’re already filled with guilt and trepidation. It doesn’t take much to push a family over the stress threshold during this time, especially if the need for senior living came about suddenly and unexpectedly.

Sometimes, clients call us with urgent needs. Maybe a loved one fell and injured herself or suffered another setback that makes it unsafe for her to remain in her current living environment. When family lives in another state, it’s no simple matter to arrange someone to stay with an aging loved one. They often don’t know where to turn to get the best, most reliable information – or even any information at all, especially when they’re at a long-distance disadvantage, making it impossible for them to tour communities. They need help now, and nothing is more frustrating than making calls only to leave endless voicemails.

We provide immediate support and information

When seniors or their loved ones call us for help, we’re often the first contact they’ve made with anyone in the senior living industry. And we’re right there, ready to help them at the drop of a hat, providing prompt, courteous and friendly support and understanding when they need it most. So when that call is made, we’re doing a number of things:

  • Helping them decide what type of housing is the right fit
  • Helping them navigate through the various features and amenities that they need
  • Helping them determine the features and amenities that best suit their lifestyles or personal preferences
  • Putting them in contact with facilities who can provide tours and in-person interviews and evaluations with ease

When we do all that, we’ve just made things a whole lot simpler. Quickly.

And many of our callers breathe a sigh of relief. Finally – help!

Starting things off on a positive note

Now we’ve started them out with a really positive experience, and they’re going into tours and interviews with an open mind. They don’t have any preconceived notions about the quality of a senior living community simply because their initial experience wasn’t a pleasant one. But they certainly could, if their experience with our staff here at SeniorHomes.com didn’t meet our quality standards.

If a client has a negative experience with a company like SeniorHomes.com, they’re probably suspicious and untrusting of any other representatives of the industry. They might go into a tour looking for things that are wrong. And they may pass on the perfect senior living community for their aging loved one just because they carried over those negative emotions.

How many times have you had an unfortunate encounter? A bad experience, say, shopping at the mall? It only takes one poor customer service experience to sour your mood for the whole day. And if you visit subsequent stores after having a bad experience, don’t you find yourself looking at other store clerks with a little more suspicion – even though they’re not the person who treated you poorly?

The same principle holds true here. By starting our clients off on a bright, friendly and positive note, we’re setting the stage for them to have a great experience throughout their search for senior housing. Because where they end up at the end of their search may very well be the place they call home for the remainder of their Golden Years.

This is just one example of the ways technology helps companies create a better customer experience. In the senior living and healthcare industry, technology is bringing things to light that were never-before possible, such as monitoring home care patients remotely, diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease earlier than ever before, creating new, more effective and fun methods for delivering physical therapy, and so much more. Technology matters, and it’s shaping the future.

Article by Angela Stringfellow

Image via Stock.xchng by intuitives

A Look At the SeniorHomes.com Call Center Technology

At SeniorHomes.com, we operate a call center that screens thousands of leads and processes tens of thousands of calls per month. To handle this volume, we decided to build our own call center product using the Twilio API. This decision was reached after researching nearly a dozen call center products, and finding that none of them allowed us the flexibly and integration we required. If you’d like to read more regarding this decision, read Twilio’s case study about SeniorHomes.com.

Over the next couple months, we will discuss some of the more interesting technologies that our engineering team has implemented in our call center. Our goal, through these posts, is to share how some of the more difficult problems were solved and the results of implementing these solutions.

Real-time updates using node.js

One challenge with our call center is that we operate a mixed inbound/outbound environment. Our call center agents are responsible for handling both inbound callers and placing outbound calls, depending on the overall inbound call volume. What this means is that our agents need to monitor the statuses of their coworkers to determine whether they should make themselves available for answering calls or place outbound calls. The challenge with this system is that the agents’ statuses need to be shared across the entire team on a real-time basis, something that has been traditionally difficult to do with internet-based applications.

Senior Living Call Center Technology

Node.js with WebSockets was used to handle the real-time data sharing. We found this solution was very scalable and had great performance. Compared to AJAX polling (another option considered), the amount of server traffic generated by the node.js/WebSocket system was at least 100x better, and (more importantly) the responsiveness of the system was at least 10x better.

After implementing the node.js/WebSocket solution, we’ve noticed immediate improvements in our inbound service rate. To operate a mixed inbound/outbound call center environment, it’s imperative that agents have real-time data regarding the availability of other agents to manage their availability for inbound calls, and the node.js system has provided a great solution to this problem.

This technology enables our team of expert Care Advisors to provide immediate service to clients, maintaining the SeniorHomes.com quality service standard. In an upcoming post, we’ll be discussing the implications of rapid lead response times in the healthcare and senior living industry, as well as how this technology benefits our customers.

Post by Ken Ploeger

Top 10 Health Technology Blogs

Technology is re-shaping the healthcare industry. With HIPAA and other regulations getting stricter by the day while technology becomes more prevalent for things like maintaining patient records, staying compliant becomes challenging. At the same time, new technology is streamlining the delivery of patient care, reducing medical errors and saving lives. Leading experts in health technology are taking to the blogosphere to keep both providers and consumers up-to-date on the latest technologies impacting the industry. Here’s a look at a few, listed in no particular order of importance.

1. HealthIT Buzz – Where else to turn for the latest regulatory information than the federal government? Run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), HealthIT Buzz shares information on the ongoing transition of the healthcare industry to electronic health records. Regulations like the HIPAA Security Rule weigh heavily on Covered Entities, so this blog is an excellent resource for keeping tabs on changes to the rules and guidelines.

2. Personal Health Tech Blog – Ira Brodsky blogs about health technology from a personal perspective in an easy-to-understand format. While this blog is relatively new, we’ve included it in this list thanks to the easily digestible news on health technology that’s relevant to patients and caregivers. Definitely one to watch.

3. iHealthTran – The Institute for Health Technology Transformation “is the leading organization committed to bringing together private and public sector leaders fostering the growth and effective use of technology across the healthcare industry.” The Institute offers programming spanning a wide range of healthcare industry entities, including providers, medical device manufacturers, consumer and patient groups, and much more. The blog is engaging and highly informative — discussing the use of Twitter for customer service, new innovations that shape patient care, and more.

4. Kevin MD – Kevin Pho, MD, is “social media’s leading physician voice,” providing physician insights on the latest breaking medical news. Trust us, this blog is anything but dry. Pho sheds some light on the new voice of the physician world–the patient-empowering, thoughtful, and engaged practitioners that thrive on saving and improving lives, and aren’t afraid of trying the next great technology to make it happen.

5. Health Tech Hatch – This blog covers mobile technology — including a recent call-out to mobile app developers to come up with something to ease the process of self-care, along with news on progress with the move to electronic health records, cost savings and tons of other useful tidbits.

6. CNET - One of the web’s leading news publications, CNET has an impressive section devoted solely to health technology. Recent posts include coverage of a children’s cancer wing transformed into a “superhero” wing and other heartwarming and informative news on the cutting edge of health tech.

7. My Health Tech Blog - The great thing about this list of health tech blogs is that there are so many different perspectives represented. Deborah Leyva, author of My Health Tech Blog, spent 17 years in the technology industry and is now a Registered Nurse and Health Informatics Specialist. She offers an abundance of insightful expertise on everything from HIPAA (including some valuable HIPAA checklists and tools), to healthcare analytics, awards, and EHR.

8. eHealth - Focusing on all things electronic health technology, eHealth is managed by John Sharp, a medical center IT manager in Ohio. Sharp is active in a number of premier healthcare and technology associations and brings his expertise forward on e-health, personal health records, Web 2.0 and more.

9. Health Plan Innovation - Health practitioners aren’t the only entities impacted by the technology wave. Health Plan Innovation focuses on ways to use innovation to “solve health care access, quality and funding issues.” We don’t think there’s anyone out there who would disagree that this is exactly the kind of thought leadership we need to solve the nation’s healthcare crisis.

10. Meaningful HIT News - Neil Versel is a professional healthcare journalist, bringing yet another point of view to this blog roundup. Versel has written on healthcare technology for a wide range of publications and brings his investigative journalism experience to the blogosphere, sharing both light-hearted looks at the challenges in the industry as well as a serious approach to covering some of the biggest changes impacting practitioners, quality, mobile health and other pertinent facets of the industry.

What are your favorite reads on the intersection between health and technology? Any favorite bloggers who share insights from the changing world of health IT in an engaging way? Tell us what health IT blogs you love in the comments below.

Image via Flickr by tedeytan
Post by Angela Stringfellow

Mobile Devices, Apps and Online Tools: The Changing Caregiving Landscape

The way we care for aging loved ones is changing as rapidly as the number of family caregivers is increasing across the U.S. And that means technology needs to keep up, as Baby Boomers and other Sandwich Gen-ers are demanding more modern tools to manage their loved ones’ care–even from across the miles. The tech landscape is happy to oblige–but are developers meeting the bar when it comes to engaging caregivers?

Caregivers relying on the Internet more and more

According to recent data from the Pew Internet & American Life Project, caregivers are increasingly making use of technology to help manage the care of their loved ones, connect with other caregivers for emotional support and even to research disease-specific treatment options and coping strategies. There are quite a few new apps on the market targeted to caregivers, but Pew’s data suggests that caregivers aren’t yet embracing the power of Web applications.

Pew’s latest research reveals some compelling statistics:

  • 39 percent of adults in the U.S. are serving as caregivers to another adult with significant health issues.
  • 72 percent of caregivers have gone online in search of heath-related information–compared to just 50 percent of non-caregivers.
  • 90 percent of survey respondents have a cell phone, but only one-third have used a mobile device to gather health data.
  • Only 11 percent of those surveyed have used online tools or applications for caregiving purposes.

That’s not stopping developers from creating platforms and applications that could make the lives of caregivers easier. Recently, a number of applications have been launched, designed to help caregivers do everything from schedule appointments to searching for health-related information.

Apps replace paper-and-pencil tracking methods

Until smartphones became the norm, caregivers often relied on paper-and-pencil methods to keep track of their loved ones’ medications, dosage amounts, times and even to track when the meds had been taken. Naturally, it’s not a foolproof tracking method–and posed challenges for long-distance caregivers and situations in which multiple family members take responsibility for helping mom or dad manage their care and medications. Coordinating that care required frequent emails, meetings and phone calls to keep everyone on the same page. But now, there are apps that can track the same information with a few simple clicks–and instantly update any other family member who logs in on the current status to avoid overlaps and dosing errors.

One application serving this need and more is Balance, created by the National Alzheimer Center. The Pill Box feature is the app’s medication manager, but the app also offers features such as an RSS feed of the latest Alzheimer’s disease information and research, along with a Doctor Diary to immediately notify your loved one’s health providers of critical changes. There are dozens of other tools and apps offering similar functionality.

So why aren’t more caregivers making use of this technology? A recent report by Gigaom says developers aren’t doing enough to engage this vast audience. According to Pew Internet’s associate director Susannah Fox, “Caregivers seem to be the kind of kid who sits in the front row of every class. They are voracious information consumers – they consume it like it’s a competitive sport. They don’t let paywalls stand in their way and they’re most likely to tap every information source that’s available to them, including offline.”

There’s a big opportunity for health companies of all kinds to engage the caregiver audience, with tools and resources for medication management, scheduling, health information and so much more. Fox says caregivers are a largely untapped market, yet they’re among the most wired and technology-hungry consumers today.

Caregivers, do you use online tools and mobile applications to manage your loved ones’ care? Which tools and resources do you find most valuable? Weigh in with your comments below.

Image via Flickr by drukelly