By Susan Saldibar

What is it about technology and senior living? There is now amazing technology available to improve the quality of life for residents, staff, and families. Most of these applications are easy to install and easy to use. And yet this industry is so slow to adopt. What’s happening?

No one understands tech-aversity better than Michael Rethage, SVP of Operations for Touchtown, (a Senior Living Foresight partner). Having overseen thousands of technology implementations in senior living, he’s well aware of the hesitation and obstacles surrounding tech projects for communities.

I sat down for a Q&A with Michael. I think you’ll find his answers to be eye-opening. It’s a bit of a long read but I think well worth every word.

1. What are some of the reasons you think communities are so tech-averse?

What if you were responsible for teaching 200+ residents how to drive a car for the first time, on top of your daily responsibilities? You’d probably laugh and quit on the spot. But this type of task is assigned to staff in senior living communities every day. A new tech tool is passed down, and they’re expected to make it happen. The work feels totally insurmountable, especially with no support. We as tech vendors have a responsibility to make sure implementations don’t play out that way.

For those residents hopping into the driver’s seat for the first time, this new adventure can be intimidating. But the minute they put their foot on the pedal and experience that feeling of independence, they’re hooked. Most of the residents we speak with — and we spend a lot of time with residents — feel this way about technology. They are so ready to learn more, but that doesn’t necessarily make it easier on the associates who have to implement the tech that residents demand.

With varying needs and expectations of technology among the senior population, it’s a daunting task to uncover what works for everyone. You must find a tech vendor who has a strong implementation plan and the support to grow with you long term. That’s the start of combatting technophobia in the industry.

2. How do you make the benefits of technology real to community leadership in ways that help them embrace the outcomes?

Using the driving analogy, all the people who understand the value and even know how to drive don’t necessarily own a car. It’s not that they don’t want one or understand the benefits, it’s that they have a million other priorities that take precedence. For us, the question is really how do we help community leadership make technology a priority without additional burden?

Every community’s priorities are different. You should choose a vendor who understands that. At Touchtown, we advise solutions that address their specific and current needs. That might just be making the right solution fit in their budget or recommending a unique collection of products that address their challenges. Most often, though, it’s all about implementation and support.

A little research goes a long way. We regularly connect communities looking at our products with members of our Customer Advisory Board, Touchtown partners in their area, or other references so they can gather their own information about the benefits. It’s very helpful for them to see how the products work for others to get some context and see if we’re really delivering on the value we promise. If possible, always try to see how other communities use the product and learn about their implementation experience on top of the impact it’s making.

3. What should communities look for in a technology provider to ensure a successful implementation?

Any business in any industry needs technology to succeed. Often evaluation of technology focuses on feature-to-feature comparison of different solutions. In reality, there are a lot of comparable tech products, but the implementation can be vastly different. Before you choose a provider based on their features, ask what they will do for you a week, a year, and five years from now.

What happens after the contract is signed? Is your vendor going to continually deliver the support you need? With no ongoing support or training, you are one turnover away from failure. You have to look at what resources a vendor will provide you so you can decide if they really are just a vendor, or if they’re a long term partner. Ask to see their learning resources and how they provide training to new hires.

This is especially important if your community doesn’t have a dedicated employee just to oversee tech implementations. You need a partner that will serve as an extension of your team. You need a partner that you can call or chat with anytime, that has resources and quality of service to make you successful.

When we start talking to potential partners, they’re mostly community admins, IT directors, and life enrichment coordinators. When they take the lead on implementing a product like ours, they’re taking on an entirely new role on top of their regular responsibilities. They are extremely smart and capable people, but they can’t do it alone. It’s paramount to find a partner with a proven implementation plan and large team. We’re really proud to offer that at Touchtown.

4. Any words of wisdom for communities who keep putting technology on the back burner?

If you don’t learn to drive a car at 70, it just gets harder at 75, and even then you still aren’t where you want to be.

Remember, you don’t take the car on the highway the first time behind the wheel. It might take a million lessons in the parking lot before you’re ready for the roads, but baby steps are better than no steps.

One way we work with communities is offering different levels of products, that way they can start with the most basic tech solutions and level up whenever they’re comfortable.

5. How can communities help make new tech initiatives successful for residents?

Two words: involve them.

Employees don’t have to do this alone. When you involve residents, they become just as invested in the success of the program as you are. Instead of two team members, you now have twenty or fifty all working toward a common goal.

It’s about empowerment.

You’re empowering residents to take ownership of the implementation and help their neighbors to grow adoption. It becomes their job, their purpose to share the benefits with their peers.

You’re empowering the entire community to learn in the way that’s most suited for them. Some will just download an app and get it on day one. Others enjoy presentations from staff. Many will enjoy the opportunity of having a neighbor teach them. It can be so moving for those who are tech-averse to see people like them succeeding in using the tools.

We have seen great success in implementations where an ambassador group was involved from day one and take great care to help communities curate these groups. In some cases, resident councils lead the entire process of vetting and implementing our product. They even handle billing! It’s amazing. Peer-to-peer learning is so important in every age group, but especially when you don’t often see people like you represented as tech users.

Residents can have an impact on their neighbors and help them get involved, so empower them to be part of the process whenever you can. We’re hosting a webinar with Senior Living Foresight on this exact topic to showcase why it’s so important to include residents in community planning and how communities can tap into the power of their residents.

Regardless of your stance on technology and your plans for using it in your community, it’s not a bad idea to tune into this webinar. Let us know what you think!