Senior living providers will be able to more easily and effectively deploy and manage Amazon voice technology at scale through a new enterprise solution from the tech giant.
The ability to fleet-manage Amazon’s voice technology is a “big breakthrough,” Atria Senior Living CEO John Moore told Senior Housing News.
Atria is among the first providers that will deploy Echo devices using the Alexa Smart Properties offering, with the voice tech initially rolling out in the luxury communities that Atria is developing through a joint venture with The Related Companies.
Alexa Smart Properties has already supported enterprise use of Alexa-enabled tech in various other types of real estate such as office buildings, hotels and multifamily properties. The effort to enable similar capabilities in senior living was accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic, according to Liron Torres, Global Leader for Alexa Smart Properties.
“Early in the Covid pandemic, hospitals and senior living communities started asking us to implement solutions in their properties to help connect with family and friends when that was really difficult, and to help staff stay in touch with patients while having limited protective supplies,” Torres told SHN.
In creating the enterprise solution, Alexa Smart Properties received information and feedback from providers such as Atria and California-based nonprofit Eskaton, as well as senior living-focused tech companies such as K4Connect, Aiva, Vocera and Lifeline Senior Living.
Leaders with Alexa Smart Properties and Atria believe that widespread deployment of Echo devices will enhance residents’ experiences and improve operational efficiency at a time when both goals are difficult but crucial to achieve, given shifting consumer expectations and intense workforce challenges.
Alexa for senior living
The world first met Alexa, Amazon’s voice assistant, when the company launched its Echo devices in 2014. In the years since, Echoes have made their way into senior living communities, sometimes through efforts undertaken by providers to offer the technology and also as more residents have moved in with the devices.
Senior living providers saw promise in voice technology and strong results from pilot programs, which showed that the tech was easy for older adults to use and offered multiple features that they embraced, including the ability to manage their living environment and stay in touch with loved ones. When Covid-19 hit and providers across the country turned to technology to enable residents to stay connected with people outside communities that were in lockdown, voice technology was an obvious solution.
However, providers were struggling to help residents set up and maintain Echoes, and also were frustrated that the devices did not integrate with other technology being used in communities, Torres said.
“They said, ‘There has to be a better, more scalable way to manage this’ — and that’s what Alexa Smart Properties provides,” she said.
Through the pandemic, Alexa Smart Properties worked with senior living stakeholders to develop the solution that now is being introduced, adding features that providers said were high-priority, such as the ability for residents and their loved ones to easily initiate video calls as well as voice calls with each other, using Echo Show devices.
“One of the reasons I’m so excited about this product is because this came from the communities,” Torres said.
Other key features of the senior living enterprise solution include:
— Communities can access tens of thousands of Alexa skills to offer information such as activity schedules and menus
— Staff can send announcements via the devices and also can initiate calls with residents
— Residents can utilize the devices for routine check-ins, maintenance requests and other needs
— HIPAA-eligible skills can allow senior living staff and residents to interact in secure environments, and for senior living providers to utilize the technology for tasks such as medication tracking
Amazon “implements administrative, technical and physical safeguards for protected health information received as part of HIPAA-eligible skill interactions,” according to the company’s announcement of the new offering. In addition, no personal information is shared with Alexa to use the device, and voice recordings are not saved.
Atria foresees multiple benefits
Louisville, Kentucky-based Atria is among the largest senior living providers in North America, with the company’s 2021 acquisition of Holiday Retirement’s management business creating a portfolio of nearly 450 communities.
Atria also has been a technology leader, building an in-house operating platform that is now being sold to other providers through a company called Glennis Solutions. And Atria has been working closely with Amazon on senior living-related initiatives, with Atria Chief Technology Officer Chris Nall sitting on an advisory council with the technology giant.
Atria has advocated for having fleet management of Echo devices, which will be a “game changer,” Atria CEO Moore told SHN.
Moore is excited about how residents and staff will be able to utilize the Echo Show devices, and how the tech will create a more efficient operational matrix by integrating with other solutions that Atria has in place.
He foresees residents using the Echoes to stay in touch with loved ones; control home automation features such as lights, blinds and thermostats; set up reservations for programs, activities and transportation; and access various types of information and entertainment.
Among the benefits to staff, workers will be able to more easily request help if needed and also access Atria’s care management system to more efficiently record information related to health and wellness — for example, noting that a resident’s cough is getting better or worse.
Furthermore, integration with Atria’s resident and family app will amplify the benefits. For example, after a caregiver tells Alexa that Mrs. Jones’ cough is getting better, that information might go out automatically via the app to Mrs. Jones’ children.
Atria also has introduced a technology concierge at its community in Newport Beach, California, and plans to have a tech concierge in the Related projects as well. The concierge will help residents set up and learn how to use their Echo devices, and make sure that the community maintains a high-touch as well as high-tech approach to the resident experience.
Although the projects with Related are designed for an affluent consumer, Atria serves residents at multiple price points — the recently acquired Holiday portfolio, for example, consists largely of middle-market independent living communities. Given that Echo devices are relatively inexpensive and should drive operating efficiencies, Moore sees tremendous potential to expand the technology throughout the Atria portfolio.
“We think it has broad applicability across the whole spectrum,” he said.
As one example of how the devices might drive efficiency, he proposed that residents might receive a prompt to pre-order their lunch for the next day, with five options to choose from — residents who do not pre-order might then only have two options, allowing a building to offer choice but in an economical manner.
“We can plan in advance, and make it simpler,” Moore said. “There are all sorts of use cases like that, that we think will create the efficiencies that will allow us to be smarter in how we run the buildings.”
That effort should also be aided by the data that fleet management of the system enables. For example, providers will be able to create anonymized reports showing how the Echo devices are being utilized by residents.
And achieving these efficiencies is especially important at the moment, given that expenses remain elevated due largely to pandemic disruptions, while staffing is under extreme pressure due to worker shortages and other labor-related issues also stemming in large part from Covid.
The Amazon technology should help improve retention by making senior living jobs easier for staff, Moore believes. For example, caregivers today might be using a tablet to take notes on resident interactions, and simply speaking to Alexa simplifies that task even more.
“Using technology to simplify how people do things is part of attacking the workforce issue,” Moore said.
Making the current environment even more difficult for operators, occupancies are still down, having dropped to historically low levels during the pandemic. Being able to offer Echo devices for all residents of a building should be a marketing advantage that helps drive move-ins, Moore said.
Atria CTO Nall emphasized that the Echo Shows should also enhance the resident experience.
“The great thing about these Shows is, we’re going to provide them with the tech already in the room, it’s always plugged in, managed for the resident, and actually we’d assist them with our tech concierge,” Nall told SHN. “This ensures every single room has this gateway into the whole digital universe for that community.”
The process of setting up the enterprise system also should be relatively easy for Atria, particularly given that the provider already has been working with Aiva. Aiva helps senior living providers to make the most of Echo devices and other voice technology, and partnered with Alexa Smart Properties through the development of the new senior living-specific enterprise solution.
Many senior living providers have existing partnerships with firms such as Aiva or K4Connect to help drive their voice tech initiatives, and working through these relationships is the easiest way to take advantage of the Alexa Smart Properties solution, Torres said. However, senior living providers also can work directly with Alexa Smart Properties.
Many consumer technologies hold promise for use in senior living, and more residents are moving in with expectations that they can continue to utilize the products that they are accustomed to, from wearables to smart home devices.
Moore hopes that an increasing number of consumer tech companies will enable enterprise management of their solutions, and he commended Amazon for being a leader in this regard.
“I think hats off to them,” he said.
The post Amazon Introduces Alexa for Senior Living Enterprise Use, Atria Bringing to Related JV Properties appeared first on Senior Housing News.