February 12, 2018, Maggie Flynn, Skilled Nursing News - When picturing the best setting for a thriving, well-lived life, most people won’t imagine a nursing home. The skilled nursing facility of the future can change that, however, with a strong technological base that facilitates connectivity for both residents and medical personnel.
“A building requires a foundation,” Michael Skaff, chief information officer at Jewish Senior Living Group in San Francisco, told Skilled Nursing News. “Modern care requires connectivity more and more, and that’s usually taking the form of wireless connectivity.”
David Dillard, president of the Dallas-based D2 Architecture, foresees major growth in technology’s role in health care. Motion detectors in a skilled nursing room can detect anomalies in a resident’s patterns of movement, are one example, he said. And SNFs want to use such tools, they’ll need strong Wi-Fi.
Skaff added that mobility is a growing component of medical care, especially if a facility is looking to mobilize electronic health records. Nurse call systems and resident safety solutions, among others, are increasingly moving toward Wi-Fi, he noted.
“Wi-Fi and other wireless technologies, like Bluetooth for example, [are] also emerging as showing some promise in certain aspects of delivering the health care experience and an optimal patient experience,” Skaff said.
Building a strong internet backbone at a facility isn’t just essential for providing care, according to Jeff Anderzhon, senior planner and design architect at Eppstein Uhen, an architecture firm with offices in Wisconsin, Colorado, and Iowa.
“Everyone over 65 generally has a smartphone and knows how to use it,” he said. “They want computers in their rooms, particularly in skilled nursing in short-term rehab care. Some of those residents may be working, and they want to stay connected to their job via computer.”
Transitioning from Old to New
With construction moratoriums, certificate of need (CON) laws, and other restrictions, there isn’t much new SNF-building in the U.S., Skaff said. As a result, a skilled nursing facility or nursing home that wants to prepare for the future is more likely to be dealing with older construction.
“SNFs emerged from a medical model copied on hospital layouts from the 1960s,” Anderzhon told SNN. “At that time there was very little technology outside from analog nurse call systems, so the infrastructure for the nursing homes was nonexistent for the future. And that’s not uncommon, because it’s hard to predict the future.”
Nursing homes and SNFs in older structures will have some challenges if they want to expand connectivity. In California, for instance, a nursing home has to consider regulations from the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development as it considers renovations, Skaff explained.
Another consideration is who’s providing the connectivity.
“Today with the Bluetooth and the Wi-Fi and the wireless connections, it’s not as critical to have those wires put into the construction before the drywall goes on,” Anderzhon said. “But it is critical that the selection of service provider and the selection of internet server has the broad enough band to serve all of these devices. Because more will be coming into being.”
Bringing in different technology functions means that a SNF will have to consider different electronic and mechanical components in a new building. To ease headaches on this front, Dillard strongly recommends that clients bring in a mechanical, electrical, plumbing (MEP) firm that has in-house technology consultation.
“Having our consultants under one roof makes us as a design team much more efficient, much more able get it right the first time,” he explained.
The number of considerations could seem daunting, particularly as SNFs struggle with thin margins. Skaff, however, firmly believes it’s worth the effort.
“It’s a worthwhile investment because there’s so many different things you can place on top of that investment that add a lot of value, both from a day-to-day operational standpoint for the nursing staff, as well as from the resident standpoint,” he explained.