By Fee Stubblefield, Founder & CEO, The Springs Living

A few years ago, one of our residents went through a series of transitions that made it painfully clear to me that the senior living industry, ourselves included, needed tremendous improvement in our care coordination and communication. This resident had been hospitalized and spent time recovering in a skilled nursing facility. Eventually, he was discharged from skilled nursing, without family notification, and returned to his home within our community via third-party medical transport. Due to a series of inadequate hand-offs of the discharge instructions, our team was not aware of certain details and unprepared to immediately meet his needs. This botched transition from skilled nursing back to our community-based care setting caused negative outcomes for the resident. The problem? Poor communication between the providers and the family.

Inadequate communication is often a major problem in caring for seniors. Poor communication among providers, families, and residents can lead to strained relationships, gaps in quality of care and even worse. When seniors move, due to changing care needs, across a variety of clinical settings and housing environments, care coordination can become particularly challenging. There often are simply too many people involved and too many relationships to manage effectively without the help of technology.

As an owner, developer and operator of independent living, assisted living and memory care communities, The Springs Living has always aimed to innovate and help families feel comfortable and included. Studies repeatedly validate the positive impacts family support has on health outcomes. With this in mind, we have been looking at various platforms to solve this communication problem. We even started down the road toward developing our own solution, but proprietary solutions aren’t the answer.

Phil Fogg, Jr., CEO of Marquis, saw the need as well. “As an industry, we think we already do a good job at communicating,” Fogg stated. “But we don’t.”

We need industry-wide adoption of a communication and collaboration platform that encourages family engagement and is based on proven technology. The family is a critical part of the care team, and we must have a solution that continually tracks the needs of each person we care for no matter what care setting they encounter. The solution must accompany the person each step of the way.

In the last 12 months, about 34 million Americans provided unpaid care for at least one adult who is 50 years or older. One of these informal caregivers, Michael Eidsaune, invented an app for smartphones that allows people to join or create “care circles” around a loved one who needs coordinated care. With its user-friendly interface the Carely app combines the best attributes of social media, group texts, and face-to-face communication to help families improve care of their loved ones.

Over the last couple of years, Carely has helped more than 10,000 families experience a more positive season of caregiving through better communication and effective collaboration.

This is where our peanut butter collided with their chocolate.

Imagine the ideal combination of a family’s personal knowledge of their loved one’s history, needs, and preferences coupled with what the industry can provide: service plans, concierge capabilities, physician’s orders, electronic medical records, prescription fulfillment, and more. Because Carely isn’t specific to a single care provider, it remains portable, which means families can use it regardless of where their loved one resides.

If each provider continues down the path of developing its own family portal, each with its own login, interface, and capabilities, there’s no transferability when a resident moves from one clinical setting to another, or from one living situation to another.

Fogg believes Carely has the right thought leaders engaged in the discussion, and the right approach to solving the problem. “Our industry needs this solution,” Fogg said.

And he’s right. We see a time in the not-so-distant future where this platform likely will be an effective tool for inter-professional collaborative teams. The industry has an opportunity to embrace and further develop a platform that thousands of consumers have already integrated into their daily lives.

While the heart of Carely is the care circle, it is evolving to effectively deal with protected health information and achieve HIPAA compliance. Doctors don’t typically become their patients’ Facebook friends in order to stay in touch and provide better care. But within Carely, they can tap into the family’s personal knowledge while maintaining a professional stance.

“We have a stellar technical team,” explained Eidsaune. “We were initially cautioned against building a bridge between family and the medical community because the obstacles were thought to be too high. But with the help of industry providers, we are solving one challenge after another.”

The Springs Living, Marquis, and Avamere are piloting Carely at a handful of communities and looking for others to join them in solving the problem. We feel confident offering it to families as part of the resident’s onboarding process because we know it’s easy to use, and the Carely team listens to their users and continually makes enhancements. This must be a collaboration, not a competition. If we collaborate on an industry-wide solution, we will propel our profession into the future and solve problems for residents, patients, and their families. If we as an industry solve this communication problem, we all win.

Seniors deserve an increasingly robust path to wellness at every stage. Forty years ago startups forged new paradigms that combined housing, lifestyle, and medical solutions, and we continue to see strides in lifestyle-based assisted living, memory care specialization, and coordinated in-home care. Industry leadership has an obligation to continue to disrupt the status quo to improve seniors’ overall wellbeing, combat the challenges they face everyday, provide more opportunities for meaningful family interactions, and fulfill even the greatest expectations of each generation.

Disruptors redefine parameters by viewing each problem as solvable and each obstacle as movable. Let’s make room in our thinking for applying the latest technology and working collaboratively, while never losing sight of how open each successive generation is to new ideas and solutions. Let’s start by investing our time in thinking deeply about what we want to achieve.