Can smart technologies in care homes really help operators cut costs? Care Home Professional spoke to Palle Stevn from MariCare, manufacturers of ‘Elsi Smart Floors’, to find out more.
The sensitive subject of finances in healthcare is often fiercely debated. Investment towards achieving higher standards of care is undoubtedly of top priority to any healthcare establishment, but how to spend limited budgets can be a challenge. With an obligation to best fulfil a Duty of Care, utilising any option that can satisfy all parties must be considered.
Now, there might be an answer that can not only improve the quality of care, but also prove extremely cost-effective too: smart technologies. If the implementation of such technologies can help nurses and care staff to improve the lives of the infirm, whilst at the same time providing a sizeable return on the initial investment, it instantly becomes a logical consideration for healthcare operators.
Palle Stevn is COO at MariCare – a Finnish company that has developed an innovative brand of ‘Smart Floor’ technology, the Elsi® system, designed purposefully for use in the healthcare sector – from hospital wards and rehabilitation centres to nursing homes and hospices.
The MariCare Elsi® system works through sensors built into the floor, which record how patients and residents navigate the building day-to-day. The immediate benefits are plentiful, from detecting when a patient has fallen over, to when they get out of bed and walk to the bathroom and thus, may require assistance.
All of these prompts are then communicated wirelessly to the nurses’ computers or smart devices, allowing them to monitor patients and act as and when required. Not only that, it helps them to learn patterns of behaviour and informs an understanding of how they can prevent any harm in the future.
But how can a ‘Smart Floor’ be seamlessly integrated into a facility without impacting existing procedures and protocols? Moreover, how can a floor cut costs for healthcare operators?
Perhaps the most sensitive challenge care home operators face is the fear that any technological care enhancements might jeopardise the employment of the staff. However, Stevn is adamant that systems such as the Smart Floor should be considered as a means to helping the staff become more effective: “Whenever we talk with potential customers, we never talk about it being a means to cut costs by reducing staff,” said Stevn. “We have had feedback from existing customers who say that the installation of the Smart Floor system is saving huge amounts of employees’ time. For example, the Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare performed research on our pilot project in Finland between 2006 and 2010, which found that falls were reduced by 97% between 2pm and 7pm, while staff sick leave was reduced by 30% and overall time saved was 21%.”
“That is time that can be redirected towards improving the care, for example spending more time with patients or residents that need the most attention. It is a matter of improving resource management – not saving costs on salaries.”
But whilst cost savings are not the ultimate goal, naturally, from a business perspective, operators will consider the return on investment as a crucial factor in any decision they make. Without sensible, considered decisions, operators risk the financial stability of their establishment, which itself is a risk to the well-being of the occupants.
Alongside the efficiency gains made through the reallocation of staff time, there are other factors that contribute towards ROI: the needs of the resident; the nature of the organisation; the successful implementation of the technology; and various economic factors. But, ultimately, ROI is a by-product of the Smart Floor’s primary objective: fall prevention.
“Significant cost savings are very real with the Smart Floor,” explained Stevn. “For example in a Nordic country, if a patient or resident suffered a hip fracture, it becomes extremely expensive for the municipality. With the operation itself followed by the rehabilitation, you are looking at up to €100,000 per time. Now, if a moderately-sized nursing home installs a Smart Floor for €200,000, only two falls need to be prevented for the system to pay itself back.”
But what about that initial cost? Committing lump sums towards installing supportive technologies is not always easy to justify for a healthcare operator in the context of its fiscal budget. That is why Stevn believes that product and service providers should operate with the flexibility to accommodate financial restraints: “Ultimately, when we are talking about saving lives, there is no benefit in playing hardball over the costs,” said Stevn. “Many customers we have dealt with quite simply cannot install the system in every room in one initial payment. Obviously, this is far from an ideal situation for them and their residents – think of the politics that would result from having some ‘premium’ rooms that feature the system, and then other rooms that don’t.”
He continued, “At MariCare we offer two options: buy all at once, or enter a service level agreement. With the latter, they only buy the parts that are fixed to the building and cannot be removed – so cables and sensor laminate. The rest is removable parts and we make an agreement. They make a down payment on each room, and then a fixed monthly cost that makes it entirely manageable to ‘buy’ the system over a period of five years or longer, depending on an operation’s budgets, which will be lower due to the cost savings from the system.”
“It dramatically reduces the initial investment, ensures the system is fully operational throughout the building, and is considerably more affordable than employing additional professional nurses to be located in the room at all times. Instead, you are employing a set of cheaper ‘invisible’ nurses to work alongside and supplement the work of on-shift professionals.”
Stevn added, “Based on direct feedback from our customers, the return on investment has been very quick: in some cases between 18-24 months, but with others in just 6 months.”
“Whilst that ROI stems largely from the savings made through fall prevention, it stretches far beyond just that. In the context of care homes, for example, the relatives want the best care for their loved ones. With a system like the Smart Floor, operators can justify through their marketing that they have one of the best, most technically sophisticated care homes in the district. It is a huge added value and you know that the relatives will be willing to pay the extra for that added security.”
Whether a healthcare establishment is public or private, the end goal is the same – improving the quality of care in a way that makes best use of an organisation’s finances. With companies like MariCare now in the reckoning, that is becoming easier and easier to achieve.
“Our systems are prepared for the future,” concluded Stevn. “We constantly develop new features for the products, which are the direct result of close cooperation with our customers around the world. We like to think of it as public and private innovation.”