Close up image of a caretaker helping older woman walk

As tempting as they are, full-blown replacements of personal emergency response and nurse call systems are often not feasible. The right tweaks in the right places can often do the trick, however. Experts here advise how providers can retouch existing systems or acquire suitable new equipment to enhance coverage for residents.

Pressing needs can prioritize which upgrades to seek. For example, upticks in the number of memory care residents, says Steve Gately, director of sales and marketing for Secure Care.

“Staff and resident duress is becoming a bigger and bigger reality,” he says. That’s partially due to increasing numbers of dementia and Alzheimer’s residents.

Falls are another big area of concern, adds Jane Phillips, senior national account manager for Philips HealthTech Senior Living Solutions.

“In addition to leveraging up-to-date solutions with fall management and predictive analytics, system updates also are important for monitoring resident fall risks and wandering,” she says.

Major factors, such as age of equipment, should ultimately drive modest fixes, according to Laura Wasson, director of healthcare for Tech Electronics. 

“Maintaining obsolete systems is expensive and it’s becoming harder to find a partner for service,” she says, suggesting wireless systems as a way to reduce infrastructure and maintenance costs. Todd Stanley, senior product manager at Inovonics, says systems more than 10 years old should be replaced.

Staying on top of healthcare reform may be a reason to upgrade. QAPI programs require a lot of data, warns Tim Fischer, vice president of sales at RF Technologies.

Piecemeal solutions can work, experts say. For systems less than 15 years old, retrofitting may be an option.

A good example is wandering detection systems. Gately says modular approaches such as “layering in” features like real-time location services and an integrated nurse call solution can shore up what’s already in place. 

“The ultimate solution is the stitching together of hardware and software products that enable long-term care facilities to maximize their initial investment while continuing to upgrade,” he says.

James Jansen, product manager for Direct Supply, says occasionally, modifications to existing systems or integrations of existing systems to new platforms are possible.

“Answering the question of, ‘What does a system need to do for you today and in the future?’ is a great starting point,” he says.

Identify the “must-haves. Jeff Moore, U.S. director of senior living for Philips’ Home Monitoring division, believes falls detection should lead the list.

Real-time location services (RTLS) are now nearly ubiquitous. Secure Care’s Gately advises seeking RTLS with “zonal” capabilities “that do not require costly infrastructure hardware in every room or check points.” 

Wasson believes mobility and reporting are two essentials in call and emergency response systems.

Even attractive emergency call buttons or pendants “can lead to increased resident compliance and therefore help to ensure their safety,” Stanley adds. One caveat: Ensure that the facility’s Wi-Fi can support upgrades, Jansen stresses.

Thorough research and sticking to a budget will go far. Manageable pieces over time are a great way to modernize without breaking the bank.

Tech upgrade decisions should take into account useful life, cost of ownership, current and future options and parts and service availability, Jansen adds.

Anticipate and prepare for the inevitable bumps. Among the possible surprises are changing power requirements, internet network upgrades and future infrastructure projects.

Of course, government rules can obviate future upgrades. For example, in 2019 CMS is changing bedside call-light requirements in long-term care facilities. Taking that into account now during upgrades can help avoid unbudgeted expenses, Fischer notes.