John O'Connor

As never before, data collection and analytics have become part and parcel of long-term care. Even midsize and smaller operators are sifting through amazingly granular information to document strengths, address weaknesses and unearth new opportunities. It’s all fantastic stuff.

Yet it must be said that relatively speaking, this sector remains entrenched in the digital Dark Ages. That’s the case in at least two key areas. The first is information operators should know but don’t. The second concerns information operators know, but refuse to share with the class.

How did I stumble on this revelation? Of all things, while helping a family member find an auto.

In case you haven’t done the same recently, car shopping is a different game these days. Before we even considered kicking a few tires, we were able to troll the Web for some amazingly specific data about the auto in question, including its relative strengths and shortcomings. We were also able to go to the respective manufacturer’s website for highly detailed information, and see how the car compared to the competition.

Plus we were able to get pricing by trim line and extras, along with email quotes from area dealers. That was all before our very first “How ya doin’?”

Compare that to what “buying” placement for a loved one in a senior living community is like these days. With all due respect, there is no comparison. And it’s not just because a person who needs to secure long-term care services (or more likely, the oldest daughter or daughter-in-law, if not a hospital discharge planner) is not typically in a position to casually compile and peruse comparative information.

Yes, every community is different. Regardless, I’m guessing that you don’t tell your potential customers a whole lot about charges and what’s really being bought until they are actually in your building. Yeah, you may have a few fuzzy brochures and a website that speaks up a commitment to care and compassion. But there’s probably scant information that would help anyone make an apples-to-apples purchasing decision. And why should there be? After all, a prospective customer just might use those numbers to find a better deal someplace else.

To which I can only say, enjoy that leverage while it lasts.

There’s a great blog by Jane Brody in Tuesday’s The New York Times headlined “Nursing Home Unthinkable? Be Prepared in Case It’s Inevitable.” The piece addresses what to look for when seeking nursing home care for a loved one. The author talked to Joanna R. Leefer, who recently wrote a helpful guide called “Almost Like Home.

Leefer’s guide does more than offer helpful advice for someone seeking care. It also unintentionally delivers a virtual blueprint of what successful facilities will need to routinely provide customers in the coming years. Among the price-of-admission items you’ll likely need to post in a public place:

  • A checklist for potential buyers so they can do line-item comparisons
  • A virtual tour
  • Room/unit dimensions
  • Your pricing options, to include exactly what is and is not covered
  • Your staffing practices, both overall and within carved out subcategories
  • Specialized services, along with related triggers, pricing and staffing commitments
  • Languages spoken, how often and where
  • Staff ratings by previous residents/families
  • Policies regarding things like wake up, meal times, bathing and other daily routines
  • Actual ratings from governmental and other grading organizations
  • Local competitors and how they compare
  • An easy-to-digest explanation of what happens when problems arise, along with detailed, related FAQs
  • Contact information and availability times for department heads

Of course, this is not even touching on the activities, food, tech toys and other marketing-related information that will be standard issue in the years ahead.

Will sharing what has historically been proprietary information be uncomfortable? You bet. Will it be expensive to put systems in place to collect and share this information? No doubt. Will you eventually have to do this stuff? Only if your future plans don’t amount to driving off into the sunset.