Younger generations are changing how senior living companies use technology and the rate at which it is adopted.
The term “digital divide” first appeared in the mid-1990s to describe the gap between people who had easy access to computers and the Internet and those who did not. At the time, this split was framed in economic terms, but today there is a new digital divide based on age, not income. And as millennials and Gen Z take center stage, the senior living industry has had to radically reimagine its relationship with technology.
“There are a lot of young adults who come into senior living and they are all fluent with technology,” says Ali Sareea, Chief Technology Officer at Glennis Solutions. “It’s a job requirement for them. They don’t want to document things on paper, or spend time making phone calls or tracking down files to get the information they need. So that’s where things like texting and mobile apps are becoming more and more prevalent in this industry.”
Tech and the generations
The oldest millennials are now 40 years old – and in 2022 they surpassed baby boomers as the largest generational cohort in the United States. As noted in a recent article in Parents Magazine which outlines generational personalities, millennials are the generation to know a childhood before and after the Internet. This shift is having profound repercussions throughout our entire society, and technology is often the flashpoint for how the world is changing. Technology is helping operators improve efficiency and attract a workforce that wants technology to optimize what they do.
Gen Z are the first “digital natives” who grew up with computers and mobile phones as part of their daily lives from day one. They were the ones who wrote their college term papers using Wikipedia rather than spending hours looking for obscure books in the library. They were the ones who got their first jobs through LinkedIn rather than by sending physical resumes to prospective employers. They do everything online, and there’s more than a grain of truth behind the cliché “there’s got to be an app for that.” As more of these younger workers enter the workforce – including the senior living industry – they assume the technology tools will be there to perform their jobs.
The digital divide meets senior living
Most of the processes and procedures that govern the senior living industry date back to the 1970s and 80s. Computers existed then, of course, but almost all patient information was physically charted and then manually input into various systems. Accountants used Lotus 1-2-3 to track financials, and doctors tracked medical information in early EMRs such as Regenstrief. But these were far from convenient (not to mention expensive to use), so most facilities relied on paper-based systems well into the 1990s. And even as new software packages and platforms became available, the standard approach to data collection remained largely unchanged.
Starting about 15 years ago, the technology world underwent a radical transformation thanks to the advent of Internet-enabled mobile devices that empowered people to input and access information from any location. For the first time, the senior living industry had access to devices that would forever alter the landscape of how elderly Americans are cared for because everyone from doctors to therapists to support staff could input and review important information in real-time.
“I can check on the status of a resident or quickly look at her profile because all of the information is available at my fingertips,” Sareea says. “Younger people working in senior care want instant access to data because that’s what they are used to, and mobile has made it possible.”
Technology tools also play a huge role in hiring and retaining staff. Giving workers the tools to make it easier to do their jobs is a big focus, shrinking the time it takes to perform many tasks from hours to minutes. “The quality of your work experience is going to be a lot better and you're going to stick longer with a provider that has better tools to get the job done,” said Sareea.
Gen Z, tech and the future of senior living
By implementing modern technology platforms to facilitate the free flow of information without silos or barriers, senior living operators can not only radically improve their ability to provide excellent care, but they can also embrace the innate technical expertise that the youngest generations have developed throughout their entire lives.
“Everybody is so focused on the human centered elements of senior care, which are obviously very important, that many times they feel that technology forms a barrier between caregivers and residents,” Sareea says. “The reality is that younger people working in the industry seamlessly integrate technology into their daily work and they expect the tools they use to support that. As an industry we need to tap into that rather than reject it.”
This also applies to millennial and Gen Z children who are looking for senior living facilities for their parents. They turn to the Internet as a first step for everything. They want to schedule visits online rather than making a phone call and waiting two or three days to hear back from someone to schedule a tour. They want insurance, billing and payments to be managed online. And once their parents move in, they want to be able to stay up to date on their well-being and what’s happening at the community from anywhere at any time.
The pandemic forced the industry to accelerate adoption of senior living software and smart devices, and investment in technology has skyrocketed among providers over the past few years. That is good news for seniors and younger generations alike.
To learn more about how Glennis Solutions can help your senior living community achieve an even higher level of performance get a free demo.