The Changing Connectivity Needs of Senior Care Communities

The growth of telehealth, Zoom, and other technologies in senior care communities means internet connectivity needs are changing, too. Senior care communities are now more dependent than ever on high-speed, reliable internet, while having unique connectivity needs. Understanding and identifying those needs and preemptively implementing solutions can help communities prevent potential problems and operate without interruption.

Potential Issues Around Limited Bandwidth

Todd Johnstone

Todd Johnstone, CEO of Allbridge

Todd Johnstone, CEO of Allbridge, explains that if a senior care community’s bandwidth needs to grow and then exceed their system’s capacity, the community could face several challenges. “Slow internet speeds can hinder residents’ communication and online activities, while staff efficiency can be limited due to delays in cloud-based systems,” he says.

Poor-quality service could interrupt telehealth and remote monitoring services, and also might impact any programming that requires remote access. “Increased latency causes communication delays, impacting emergency responses and operational efficiency,” Johnstone explains. Limited bandwidth can also delay system backups, leaving the community more vulnerable to cyber-attacks and data breaches.

He notes that limited bandwidth leads to complaints and dissatisfaction, negatively impacting resident quality of life. In turn, residents may find the community less appealing than other senior care communities that have planned and invested in technology that fully supports the community’s needs.

“Facilities that might have short-cut technology and bandwidth investments in the past will find themselves unable to manage increasing connectivity requirements, and will need to upgrade the network infrastructure and optimize bandwidth usage,” explains Johnstone. “This leads to higher costs than installing a robust, future-proof system the first time, and bandwidth requirements are only going to increase, making well planned connected and appropriate technology solutions even more critical.”

Common Connectivity Challenges in Senior Care

Because senior care communities have a unique setup and rely heavily on technology, particular challenges are common in the industry. Johnstone notes that since many residents and staff use multiple devices, this device density can lead to multiple concurrent connections. “IoT devices for health and safety monitoring add to network traffic. When network traffic overwhelms the network bandwidth, devices will either run slower, incur frequent buffering or not be able to connect at all,” he says.

Johnstone identified several other common challenges in senior care communities:

  • Wi-Fi coverage can be problematic, especially in older buildings with thick walls or extensive wiring, and in spread-out facilities requiring extensive Wi-Fi planning to avoid dead zones.
  • Video calls, streaming services, and telehealth make for high bandwidth requirements.
  • Communities need robust security measures to protect sensitive data and guard against cyber-attacks, which older adults may be more vulnerable to.
  • Limited IT resources make network management, including promptly addressing issues, challenging.
  • Scalability is a challenge as the community grows and residents’ digital needs increase.

How to Tell When It’s Time to Upgrade a Network

Several signs may indicate that it’s time for a community to upgrade its network. Frequent connectivity issues, including if residents and staff regularly experience dropped connections, are a clear indicator that it’s time for an upgrade, according to Johnstone. Residents and staff may also notice a significant lag in web browsing and video calls.

Communities should also note if they receive increased complaints from residents and their families about poor internet quality. “Strain on telehealth services, with frequent disruptions or poor quality, compromises resident care,” says Johnstone. “Operational delays occur when staff face difficulties accessing cloud-based applications, electronic health records, and other essential systems.”

Device overload, where connected devices overwhelm the network capacity, is another critical sign. “Frequent network maintenance, requiring constant repairs or resets, indicates aging or inadequate infrastructure,” he says. “Finally, future expansion plans requiring additional bandwidth and network resources necessitate a network upgrade.”

Since technology advances at a rapid pace, Johnstone recommends reviewing and potentially upgrading the network infrastructure every three to five years. “While technology evolves continuously throughout the year, most network components typically begin to show signs of failure within this timeframe,” he says.

Senior care communities can use a structured process to evaluate their connectivity needs and identify enhancements. “This typically involves conducting a thorough evaluation of current Wi-Fi performance, including resident and staff surveys to understand usage patterns and challenges,” Johnstone says. “Site surveys can help identify dead zones and signal strength issues, while an assessment of existing infrastructure highlights areas for improvement.”

Communities will need to analyze bandwidth requirements, device counts, and application demands to clearly identify its connectivity needs. “Based on this assessment, the community can then develop a plan to upgrade hardware, expand coverage, increase bandwidth, and implement security measures. Ongoing monitoring and support ensure that the network continues to meet evolving needs,” says Johnstone.

Best Practices in Upgrading Connectivity

Johnstone encourages senior care communities to look for a technology partner that has experience in the sector and expertise in technology design and Wi-Fi infrastructure. “Look for reliable partners with scalable solutions, strong security measures, and proactive monitoring services,” he explains. “Opt for providers who offer staff training, integrate with existing systems, and comply with regulations.”

Once network engineers have analyzed a community’s building plans and layout and understand the community’s specific Wi-Fi requirements, they will develop a network design to meet the community’s demands. “In most instances, additional cabling will be required to support the supplementary access points necessary for ensuring comprehensive coverage,” says Johnstone. “Typically, the network installation process takes approximately one to two months to complete.”

Many senior care communities face financial restraints when improving connectivity. Johnstone cautions against cutting costs around connectivity. “Unfortunately, connectivity can be an afterthought, and this leads to poor performance due to subpar installations that are either already limited by today’s standards, or will be unable to manage the increasing connectivity demand in two to three years,” he says. “Communities looking to keep costs low will contract with local cable providers for installation, leading to a system that provides the bare minimum of service and poor resident support.”

Ensuring a Successful Connectivity Upgrade

Johnstone notes that having a trusted technology partner is key to successful connectivity upgrades and management. “Too often these facilities incorporate technology infrastructure piece meal,” he says. “With each new layer comes a new relationship to establish and manage for routine maintenance or if something goes wrong. In some cases, these facilities can have a dozen or so separate vendors to oversee these aspects of its infrastructure, which is inefficient and with interoperability concerns it could be costly to get systems working together.”

Instead, Johnstone encourages senior care communities to choose a single technology partner that can provide and maintain all of these systems, a decision that can pay off in multiple ways. “These companies have the expertise to design, build, install, and support a Wi-Fi system, as well as security, phone, television and other pieces of the backbone that not only fulfills current needs but also anticipates future requirements is paramount,” he says. “Such a strategic choice not only ensures resident satisfaction but also boosts occupancy rates.”

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