Big Data Can Make Big Difference in Seniors Housing, Says Tech Expert

SAN DIEGO — Technology is everywhere nowadays, but its use doesn’t end at interactive displays and ways to keep seniors connected to relatives. Much of the value of today’s technology lies in its ability to collect data.

This sentiment was emphasized during the Using Analytics to Improve Senior Living Resident Care and Your Bottom Line session during the Argentum Senior Living Executive Conference, held May 14 to 16 at the San Diego Convention Center.

The session, led by Rob Price, senior product manager of analytics for MatrixCare, discussed the importance of having freshly aggregated resident and financial data. This type of information can help seniors housing decision-makers understand what, exactly, is occurring within their facilities and with their resident population.

Price focused on trends like occupancy rate, cash flow, reasons for move outs and bed rates to illustrate just how impactful data can be to an operation.

“Performance and, more specifically, good performance helps the fundamental mission of seniors housing,” said Price. “Data helps you spot what’s going on in business. What communities are having more move ins and which apartments are generating the highest number of financial unit days, among other things?”

Crunching the Numbers

Data on its own, however, is only part of the equation. These numbers don’t amount to a lot if your staff doesn’t know how to read them. This, Price argued, is why automation and analysis are so important.

With the primary job tasks surrounding the actual residents, a process of automation helps free up staff to focus on what’s really important while providing easy-to-read analytics in a regular manner.

“You have to turn data into actionable information, and that starts with creating a data-drive culture in your organization,” he said. “Raw data on its own is difficult to use, but freshly aggregated data can provide the full spectrum of analysis, allowing you to see the scope of everything from management to resident turnover.”

Though every community is different, Price recommended cultivating data systems to automatically provide fresh reports on a consistent timeline. For some facilities, this could mean new data is analyzed and spit out every four hours to intercept problems as close to real time as possible. For others, it could mean refreshing daily, weekly, biweekly, etc. This information then provides investors with the opportunity to make proactive decisions that can positively impact resident outcomes and organizational profitability.

Accuracy is Vital

While analysis is important, what is absolutely crucial is ensuring you’re analyzing the correct numbers and complete data sets. If pieces of the puzzle are missing, all the accuracy that comes with automated analysis goes right out the window.

“You really have to develop a culture in your organization to watch what’s going into your source system,” Price cautioned. “If you don’t, then what comes out the back end will really hinder your ability to spot important trends. If you have missing or invalid data, you’ll have poor analytics.”

Accuracy doesn’t necessarily come easily, however. Analysis automation can save staff loads of time in terms of preparing reports and number sets, but there is a requisite up-front investment for training staff.

A set of expectations in terms of who will enter, manage and act upon these data sets and analysis must also be created. These expectations must be upheld to ensure there is no lag in the process. Price believes that, just as the data should be automatically analyzed at regularly established intervals, a system of checks and balances needs to be created and referred to on a consistent basis to guarantee the most accurate results.

“It really does take a culture change,” he said. “If you have the analytics, you really have to endeavor to use them. You can have the best analytics in the world, but if there’s no appointment to go back and use it — to train people and get them excited — then this information is lost and you don’t get its true value.”

Price said, in his experience, staff tend to get on board for short periods of time. They eventually embrace the training, learn the system and keep their enthusiasm up for about 30 to 45 days after implementation.

After that, however, many let it fall by the wayside. Some try to pick it back up at sporadic intervals, but with so much time between the initial training and the next implementation, many seniors housing staff will find they’re back at square one. This can be a dangerous place to be.

“As value-based care becomes more prevalent, the industry is going to have to adapt and make use of this analysis,” he suggested. “The use analytics isn’t really going to be an option going forward. With the changing landscape surrounding reimbursements and general industry changes, you’re going to have to stay on top of analytics to have success at any one property. From there, you maintain and build success through leading by example.”

— Nellie Day