1 out of 2 seniors who move into senior living use a smart device three times daily. Brian McWade, President of Connected Living, discusses the changes and trends in technology in senior living including robots, social companionships, and signage.
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Welcome to Bridge the Gap podcast, the senior living podcast with Josh and Lucas. We are in downtown Dallas, Texas for a great meet and greet with a lot of our friends and industry partners. We want to welcome Brian McWade. He’s the president of Connected Living. Welcome to the show.
Show. Thanks for having me.
It’s so, so good to see you. You flew in from Boston today. It’s a long trip and you’ve arrived, and there’s a lot of energy here in Dallas, obviously related to the NIC conference. And you guys have a lot of meetings planned. We’re really excited about our partnership with Connected Living and the types of products and services you guys are bringing to the market. You’ve been around a long time and we were discussing beforehand the massive shifts and changes in tech around senior living. Walk us through kind of frame that up for us before we dive into some of your background.
Well, I think the change we’ve seen in senior living in the past 12 years, we’ll never see again in this space and pretty much any industry. So let’s just look at the past 10 years. Ten years is a lot of time and some industries, not a lot others. So if you’re in the automotive industry, the same people who are driving a car 10 years ago, still driving a car. Cars have changed innovation, Tesla, but generally speaking, it’s the same person. In senior living 10 years ago, less than 15% of seniors had access internet. They had to go to a library to get internet. And 96% of seniors had a negative view of tech of technology on society. That was the state of the state only 10, 12 years ago. You fast forward today to NIC, where we’re at. And one out of every two seniors who moves into a community has a smart device they use three times a day in, in 10 to 12 years. Just not only is it the technology that’s changing, but the demographic it’s completely different. Like in that time we went from an iPhone to like an iPhone 10, small feature changes, things like that. We’re talking about a whole demographic. And actually the biggest demographic we’re 10,000 people turn 65 a day, you know, and it’s just been a completely different world.
One thing, I didn’t mean to interrupt you, but one of the things that me and Lucas have talked about is how much has changed for these communities, but how much has changed with the technologies. And like you said, I think 10, 12 years ago operators were sitting around, “this is gonna happen a long time from now. Our infrastructure is okay, it’s in place.” But 10 years, I mean, a lot has changed. So these devices, you guys are in communities, helping operators all the time with technology. What is the primary use of technology? What are you seeing residents? What type of devices? What are they, what are they using?
Well, that’s the amazing thing is that there’s so many different factors that go into someone’s ability to use technology in senior living. You have your age, where you’re from, your financial situation your vision, dexterity, cognitive state, like seven or eight factors that go to your ability to use technology and what you should be using. And you’re not just one of those factors. You’re any combination of the seven. So when you take a community…you go into a hotel and everyone’s basically the same, right? Same type of person, same technology adoption. You go into a senior living community, there’s like 140 different types of seniors and factors that go into how they use tech. How do you build a product suite that can support everyone? You have to have an end-to-end solution. Some people need a paper calendar. Some people need to use their voice kits because they can’t see. Some people need to use a browser because their vision isn’t good enough to use a smartphone. It’s not a one size fits all thing, and that’s been the biggest challenge for these operators is people want to connect, families want a window in, but everyone is different in terms of how they have to engage.
Well, you’re exactly right. Not only is everyone different on the end-user, so that resident and what their needs are, what their desires are, their preferences, what their abilities are. But also from an operator’s perspective, there’s not a size fits all. So our audience consists of kind of small, kind of your mom and pop your single owner-operator communities to your highly sophisticated, extremely large platforms. And so with this challenge, this opportunity, it’s kind of a two-edge sword. So, talk to us about some of the, maybe the low hanging fruit for operators, no matter what size you are, some of the steps you can take to kind of bridge that gap for technology to help adapt your community to these needs.
Brian McWade 05:11
I think the goal is more of a holistic goal. Whereas an operator, in some way or another, you want to get to a hundred percent of your resident base. And for a long time, I’d say five, six years ago, there was a lot of focus on, “all right, I need, I need everyone to be on an app or I need everyone coming to a computer learning session. Like I need a hundred percent adoption.” And that’s just not how it works, right? You need to have a number of different platforms in place. So you can at least get everybody in one way or another. The easiest way is through signage, right? Like everyone has to come in. Everyone has to pass a sign. There’s so many different ways that you can do digital signage. You can do it in the lobby, in a dining area, back of the house for staff, on a TV in the resident’s room. So kind of starting with signage is a nice read-only experience. And signage has changed too. It’s not necessarily about slideshow presentations. It’s about interactive content, bringing in engagement partners. Interaction, touch screen, a bunch of different ways you can introduce and facilitate through signage.
Well, speaking of signage, so I’ve been hearing a lot in the design world now where people are trying to design communities to be more flexible, meaning that the spaces are flexible, so what may serve as like a dining room then turns into an activity area. Then turns into maybe a an exercise area later in the day, but there’s all of these different spaces. So it, it seems to me the point that you just made about digital signage, that’s something that can easily be changed and transformed to match whatever it needs to transform to, rather than tearing something off the wall and putting something back on right?
Brian McWade 06:50
A hundred percent. I mean, I think we have this feeling that signage has to be a mounted, a horizontal screen on a wall in the lobby. Signage is changing. Signage can be a check-in at the fitness center. Signage can be a sanitizer station. Signage can be really any type of way of engaging with that group. It’s not your traditional signage. In fact now we do a lot of new construction builds. And signage is part of the architectural plan. Where do we need signage? You know, should it be up in the ceiling? Should it be vertical? Should it be a menu board? There’s a whole world of building around these type of things.
What about just the concept of wellness and design and universal design? Is there a wayfinding aspect to some of these ideas?
Brian McWade 07:32
Yeah, I think there’s a lot of it comes down to the software. So I can speak from my experience, your ability to have a custom, some kind of platform to build off of, but way finding is a huge piece. And that could be as basic as just a floor, a picture of a floor plan, right. Or it could be drop and breadcrumbs and QR codes that go to an app. So you can follow it on your phone once you leave the front desk. There’s a whole bunch of options. And I think our goal, when you walk into a Marriot, that type of experience, right? When you have your board, right? Or you have your smartphone. That’s what we’re trying to get to, introducing geolocation, knowing when somebody gets right to the front door, being able to navigate around different places. So it’s kinda the world that it’s endless in terms of how we can take it.
Well I think for a long time, and probably the easiest thing is what you were talking about, which is that new construction component when you’re designing for this. But Lucas, you know, you could speak to this a lot more, but there’s so much inventory out there of these aging properties that you’re, I know in every day renovating, repositioning, is it possible now and attainable that you can have of these kind of solutions transform a community? I know the thought was years ago, it’s just so expensive to bring the infrastructure you need into for something like digital signage, but with technology, has it made it easier to be able to retrofit communities with this?
It has. I also think that it’s more of a must have now the people who are coming in expect it. So it’s less of a luxury and more of a necessity. And you find money when it’s a necessity. So I think that that’s a big piece of this. But again, these don’t have to be big media walls. These can be tablets. These can be cellular smartphones. The types of devices you can use are really endless and there’s more coming on every day. The voice products, Alexa devices, it’s all there. And there’s a cheap way to do everything in, in a way that fits your budget. So I think, you know, we’re seeing it in a wide variety of ways.
So talk to us a little bit about out successful implementation plans that you’ve seen, because I think anytime we start talking about tech, I think more and more operators are getting a little bit more sophisticated in how their team composition. But I know there’s still probably a ton of our listeners and our viewers that, they start thinking, oh my gosh, more tech. We’ve got no one on our team that’s an it specialist. Or we don’t have a large IT department, or is this gonna cost us a lot more in tech management? So how are solutions evolving to where it’s an easier lift for operators or are you seeing operators are having to bring in a ton of tech-minded, savvy team members to be able to implement this in a successful way?
I think it’s the startup process that’s the most important here in the support process. So typically what we have done, which we’ve found very successful is, n operator has a corporate plan, a corporate marketing plan corporate brand, right? That’s a very easy place to start. If you’re an operator and you have 10, 15 sites, your initial deployment can be corporate-focused content, right? Making sure that every brand has continuity in the lobby so that it matches. And then every community is different. Some are memory care, some are independent living. Some have staff that are tech-savvy, some don’t. So once you get a foundation in, you can take the time that’s needed to treat each community uniquely, as you’re implementing. For a long time, it was about, “okay, how quickly can we launch 20, 30, 40 sites?” And you end up with a wide variety of success and adoption because not every community is the same. So if you can find a way that is kind of that phase one, so you can get it there, because there’s nothing worse than having an operator with a number of sites and having half of it implemented, half your sites implemented and half not, because then you just have no continuity in it. So finding a nice way to get both is how we’ve done. It’s been very successful and especially, it’s been the main way we’ve done this the past couple years and it’s been.
Lucas That’s so helpful to kind of help set the state age for different providers and operators to say like, “here’s a way to onboard this. Here’s a process in a system.” It’s much more easier to eat the elephant, one bite at a time, right?
Yeah. Well, absolutely. So talk to the operator out there right now that may be thinking, “oh my gosh, digital signage, I don’t have a plan for that.” And you mentioned having a plan. And so where do you start? I mean, there’s so many opportunities for digital signage. What would be if you’re giving them one bite at a time, where’s the place to start that you say is like, this is the essential part of your plan, like where you wanna start with the, the most necessity?
So your lobby is important. I always recommend that you kind of break up your operating base, your communities into different types. Type one might be space for a mounted screen, which communities can fit a mounted screen in the lobby? Okay, type two space that can’t fit a mounted screen, but can fit a free standing kiosk. Okay. Phase three is they don’t support one or two, but they could use a tablet on the concierge desk. Right. So establish a common ground of your communities, because it’s not a one size fits all experience. And then you have two paths from there. One is the content path, right? And that’s kind of what we just talked about. Come up with a content plan that’s supported at all your sites initially so you can get it out there and get it implemented.
Brian McWade 12:56
And then the second is, come up with a technology enablement plan on how do we take it from signage to a different experience? One example I’ll give is with a very large, 120 company skilled nursing operator. And they decided within 30 days to deploy 240 signs to 120 communities in 40 days, right. And all of those signs had the same content as a phase one, right? And then they’re engaged, they’re on there. The community’s excited visitors are coming in, they’re seeing it. The operator has consistency and then you take another two or three months and you thoughtfully go back, hit each community independently so that they’re up to see speed on what they can do. So that’s a really, really easy way to get started.
Started. So, you know, I’m sitting here probably thinking of like, oh, all the potential problems when you think of tech and residents, right? And what kind of challenges have you seen or have you even seen challenges and how would the operators deal with these with as more and more and more tech is emerging that residents are using? Is this something that the residents are easily figuring out or is this creating more calls for operators where, help me use my tech? Is that even happening or is it not happening?
Brian McWade 14:11
It’s happening. And I think that part of what we can do is by ringing eight or nine different types of products, we can make sure everyone, everyone has a chance to get the same information. Whether you’re asking Alexa for the calendar or viewing on a digital sign, you’re still asking for the same thing, seeing the same thing. And I do think that the staff… you hire employees that are needed to support your residents. So for a very long time, when tech wasn’t key, you wouldn’t have staff that were focused in tech. But now obviously as this becomes a requirement, we’re hiring more younger people, we’re hiring people that have a better understanding of technology. And it’s just kind of, it’s an organic thing that can happen. But you definitely need a team on the back end. We’re able to offer like a support center, so any calls can come to us. But you’re definitely seeing operators build out their internal tech teams, finding managed service providers who can provide the support to troubleshoot devices or to support the residents, and it needs to be a part of that plan.
Absolutely. So obviously as needs are changing the care composition team is changing. And it’s really interesting. And I guess we’re probably living in a time where the seniors that are moving in, the older adults that are moving in, are only gonna be more tech savvy too. So this should get easier and easier. Not only are we learning how to deal with it and staff up for it better, but also are our residents are getting more savvy.
Well, and I think also not only that the staff is already savvy for the most part and they’re wanting tools, right. We’re coming out of two years of, I mean, just a lot of stress, a lot of trauma to residents and staff of what everybody’s had to deal with. Labor continues to be an issue of staffing in these in senior care, and in senior living. So let’s actually transition now to some robotics. When I think of senior living, I don’t think of robotics, but you do. And I think it’s fascinating, especially as this kind of enters into the space. I mean the clear play seems like, well, this can help maybe fill or bridge some of those gaps in staffing. Talk to us about that.
Brian McWade 16:19
Sure. So extensive experience with robotics and there there’s different kinds, right? You have your operational back of the house robots that are there to support your staff. Your dining robots. Robots to support with tele medicine and things like that. Our focus, since we’re a social company, we’re more focused on the social companionship. We have a robot Temi, which is a three and a half foot autonomous robot that almost like a Roomba vacuum learns and maps your building. And then you can control it by voice. You can control it by an app. You can control it on the screen, and it’s Alexa enabled. So think about an Alexa device that sits stationary in a room. What if you could make that move on its own?
And what if that device could call a family member automatically, or what if it could be in the lobby and use facial recognition to welcome a prospect? And say, “hey, where do you want to go? Are you here to see a loved one? Are you here for a tour?” “I’m here for a tour.” “Okay. Follow of me.” Interestingly with robots, when a robot goes down a hall, people look at it and they smile. It’s just different. If a robot walked in right here, I guarantee you’d smile and see it.
Or jump through that, one of the two, I don’t know what the other side. Yeah,
Yeah. Get ready.
Brian McWade 17:34
So, yeah. So that’s a, it’s a big piece. I think there’s a lot of questions in terms of where robotics goes. But I think from a social companionship standpoint, there’s a lot of opportunity. We’ve seen it. There’s pets, toy pets and the obviously our type of robot, but there’s other robots that can come in and provide that support.
So Timmy is coming to a community near me. That’s what you told me.
Brian McWade 17:56
We have about 300 out there right now. [Oh my gosh.] Probably the most deployments of robotics out there. And they do everything from, they’re in a concierge, in a lobby. We have communities, especially skilled nursing communities are using them to schedule calls with loved ones. Temi goes to the room at a set time. The video call starts Temi goes back to its home base at the end. So just some very simple deployments that can bring more engagement because we have such a staffing shortage right now. [Yeah.] And that’s why skilled nursing’s using it so much is that if we can just take 30 minutes a day and that back to the staff, we’re going start saving a lot of time.
Totally. It helps that major friction point.
It really does. But the burning question I have right now, why Temi? Why the name Temi? How did you arrive at Temi? Out of all the names.
It has a great ring, it has a great ring.
For that reason right there. Now just a bunch of names on a wall.
Alexa was already taken. And the other one, you got to have a name that has a ring, you know?
Well, and I’m, I’m guessing. So do you guys have any video captured of this thing? [Oh, absolutely.] So I can’t wait for our audience. I’ve got to go check this out myself. I have not seen this. I want to see Temi walking around in the community. That’s awesome.
Well, and I also imagine like, anytime, like you said, it brings smiles to people’s faces. I think maybe a knee jerk reaction, we think of like really kind of high tech stuff like robotics as people think, “oh, well now we’re gonna be disconnected,” But actually it’s a way to bring connection because when you’re in congregate care and communal living it’s actually, it’s a talking point, right? To get to experience interfacing with a robot. It’s something that’s unique. It’s something that can even bridge the gap intergenerationally as they’re trying to connect with their grandkids, and the son or daughter, adult child, talking say, “hey, the robot came, Temi came and I was able to have a call with you.” So I believe that it’s ways like this, these innovations in this space that actually bring more connectivity, not less connectivity.
Absolutely. Well, not only that, but it’s, it’s a pretty cool factor. And I think about things that attract multiple generations to want to come to the community. I mean, I can only think about my kids if they thought they were going to be able to see Temi the robot running around in a community like they’re there, they’re there immediately. They want to see see what grandma and grandpa’s doing, hanging out with Temi. That’s a really, really cool thing. Three hundred communities, you said, this is already out in?
Three hundred Temis are out there. So some communities have one, some have 15 or 20. We have one community that has one on every floor. That’s quite a few robots out there.
So I’m assuming there’s a ton of AI in these robots?
I mean, obviously, you have, it’s loaded with, you know, tech and sensors. But the amount of technology you need to be able to kind of build a linear, autonomous map and then have the safety for it, not to run into things, then build in the different, tech to do the telepresence calls and things like that. There’s a lot, lot going on.
In there. Do you think as, as this tech emerges, it’s already in a lot of communities, do you think this will be attainable for most operators or is this at a price point still to where it’s only gonna be kind of for kind of top tier communities?
Brain McWade 21:10
The key is the price point. You want to get robotics into the price of a computer, right? That’s the ultimate goal. So a Temi robot is about the cost of an expensive MacBook pro. [Wow.] That’s one of the reasons why you can scale it and have multiple within a site.
Makes a lot of sense.
I feel not cool enough to be having this conversation Lucas/
Cause you’re not.
Well, exactly. So that’s, it’s real.
But Brian is so, okay. Now, as we kind of round out the conversation, put you on a spot a little bit, so let’s kind of look at the crystal ball, three, five years out where what’s on the horizon that maybe we haven’t seen yet? And if you can’t say it or don’t, you can’t talk about it, it’s totally fine. But if there’s something out there is, is there something we should be looking for?
Brian McWade 21:53
I think that senior living is going follow a lot of what happens in hospitality, right? There isn’t going to be isn’t gonna be any rocket science, like, “oh my God, that never existed before.” But being able to walk into a room and have your name on the TV and see pictures that your loved one’s posting on a phone, or video calling on a TV, those are things that no one is really doing right now, and that’s where we’re going. So the goal obviously is to be more of a hospitality-driven industry than a care industry. And a lot of those things are things we’re seeing hotels that are slowly progressing into this. The ability to, from a prospecting standpoint, to have technology so you know your prospects are coming and you can greet them at the front door, you see that in high end hotels, you don’t really see it in senior living.
Brian McWade 22:53
So that’s easy to do. Or you know, making sure your families have an app and can communicate right into the right resident’s room. That’s something that happens between… I’m at the, the Marriot down the street and I can communicate on my phone with the hotel to let them know I’m close. So these type of things I think is where we’ll go. I think at a more macro level for so long social technology and health technology. So Connected Living versus EHRs have been so different, right? Different pieces, but because of the pandemic, they’re slowly coming together. So I think you’re going to see a lot of more importance in the data that comes from social technologies. Who’s the loved one connected to? How many times are they posting content? Have they not opened their app? Are they attending events? What events are they attending? This type of data is really important and also very valuable to to the medical systems because they’re not collecting it. So you’ll start to see value in social data.
Wow. Amazing. Yeah. So much innovation and technology that’s bridging the gap between hospitality and healthcare and bringing us together. You guys at Connected Living are doing amazing things. I can’t wait for our audience to connect with you all. You’ve been doing this a long time and it’s exciting to see you moving us forward.
Absolutely. Brian, thanks for spending time with us today. I really appreciate it.
It’s great to be here. Thank you.
Well and to all of our listeners, we appreciate you listening into this show. You can go to BTG, voice.com for all of this information and extra content, connect with us on social. Check out Connected Living and their products and services and give them a thanks for helping support the Bridge the Gap network, and bringing great content to you each week. And you can also connect with us on our website, BTG voice. Thanks for listening to another great episode of Bridge the Gap.