Embracing AI: The Next Frontier in Elderly Housing

frontier in elderly

By Dr Ulla Broms and Dr Anna Lahtinen

This article explores the notion of using AI to improve service delivery, safety, and staff well-being in elderly housing, using the example of Foibekartano, an elderly housing care company. It also offers practical tips for companies considering AI integration.

The elderly housing sector has been somewhat slow in the adoption of technology and artificial intelligence, compared to other industries. Contrary to popular belief, AI does not necessarily signify a loss of jobs or diminished human interaction. Rather, it carves out more space for meaningful human engagement by streamlining routine tasks. AI can be instrumental in promoting human interactions with senior residents and discovering innovative solutions for monitoring staff well-being, ultimately putting human capabilities to their best use – fostering human connections.

To date, only a scant number of companies and organisations in Finland have shown serious interest in integrating AI into this field. Finnish elderly housing company Foibekartano, is at the forefront, forging a new path in the company and in the health and social care industry. Embarking on the path of AI development, Foibekartano adopts a pioneer mindset in diverse housing services for the elderly and with advanced thinking.

The company took part in the AI-TIE AI accelerator, coordinated by Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences and implemented together with Laurea University of Applied Sciences and a network of partners. This helped the company gain AI understanding from the business perspective and to pilot first AI solutions. Some of the key outputs and lessons from the experience are depicted next. We conclude the article with practical tips and insights for SMEs venturing on an AI journey.

SMEs often embrace a pragmatic approach to AI: a case of Foibekartano

SMEs often focus on tangible opportunities in AI. Finnish SMEs identify the greatest potential for AI application in product and service development, production, quality control, service, remote diagnostics, sales, marketing, HR, finance, and IT functions (Lahtinen 2023).

AI could serve as a reminder for routine activities such as blood pressure measurement or bandage changes while also monitoring the residents’ weight and other key health parameters.

In elderly housing, in the case of Foibekartano, AI solutions can be implemented in customer homes to simplify everyday routines. There is considerable scope for AI integration in areas like medication administration due to the wealth of data available. AI could serve as a reminder for routine activities such as blood pressure measurement or bandage changes while also monitoring the residents’ weight and other key health parameters. Furthermore, AI has significant potential in ensuring medication safety by identifying potentially harmful medicine combinations. Voice recognition plays a pivotal role in recording daily activity data, which can be done in cooperation with the elderly residents. Another facet of AI deployment in elderly housing is 24/7 monitoring and control, ensuring constant oversight and safety. However, it’s crucial that control does not shift solely to machines. Instead, AI should operate in conjunction with human oversight, taking into account AI-related risks and maintaining a balance of human control.

In the case of Foibekartano, the company strives to accumulate knowledge and experience regarding the practical application of AI in their industry. In the company’s approach, strategic AI goals are intertwined with everyday operational needs. The company seeks opportunities to pilot innovative AI applications in their daily tasks, significantly enriching their professional scope.

One innovative application at Foibekartano is in the realm of human resource management, focusing on employee well-being. The company initiated a voluntary pilot programme, where a small group of employees tested smart rings and smartwatches. These devices, equipped with AI and advanced technologies, monitor wellness indicators such as sleep quality and overall daily functioning. The data collected is reviewed weekly, allowing comparisons based on voluntary participation and is documented in a blog. This initiative demonstrates the accessibility and utility of AI applications for SMEs, showcasing how they can leverage these technologies to enhance workforce well-being and explore potential further applications in their sector.

In addition to trying out existing AI applications, the company experiments with the development of unique and company-specific solutions. Foibekartano’s current AI development efforts lie in two distinct domains: food delivery robots and AI-driven workforce planning which are described next.

In the unique scenario of food delivery between Foibekartano houses, the company foresees a potential role for robots. AI could significantly mitigate the challenges posed by factors such as snow and winter weather and work safety concerns related to the large trolleys used for food transportation. An AI robot, capable of learning and adapting to specific routes and unique situations, could effectively handle these issues.

elder with syringe

Regarding workforce planning, this is traditionally perceived as a manual and time-consuming task and emerges as another area ripe for AI intervention. While acknowledging and taking into account the complexity added by employees’ preferences and schedules, Foibekartano sees immense potential for streamlining this task through AI. The company has found that a methodical approach of piloting, learning, and adapting is an effective way to advance in this sphere. The experiences in developing this solution as part of AI-TIE AI accelerator are described in more detail in Empowering SMEs with Artificial Intelligence -guide, see “Foibekartano: Automation of shift planning with artificial intelligence”.

AI acceleration: a steppingstone to AI pilot solutions

The interest in AI is on the increase, and AI acceleration programmes offer support for gaining AI understanding and its potential business value. Foibekartano participated in an AI-TIE AI accelerator that was tailored to SMEs in the Health and Med Tech sector. In the company’s experience, active participation in an AI accelerator serves as a robust foundation, enabling companies to gain practical knowledge about AI and its potential applications. This platform paved the way for Foibekartano to learn and develop AI-based solutions that suit their unique needs in the elderly housing sector.

The entry into the world of AI was relatively smoother for Foibekartano, partly because of the company’s long-standing active engagement in digital and technological advancements. Among various initiatives, the company has previously developed user-friendly communication tools that facilitate seamless interaction between residents and staff.

AI acceleration practices show that it is essential to involve a larger number of employees in gaining AI skills and brainstorming about AI solutions. This helps to bring employees to the same understanding about AI and gets both the business and IT sides involved. It is essential to facilitate and open dialogue between all people involved in the development. Progress is not always easy, and it is valuable to recognise and document challenges that are faced along the AI integration path.

Significant and clear management support is critical for effective AI deployment, enabling continuous conversation and target setting within the organisation. “Successful adoption of AI is inevitably driven and supported by visionary leadership. In the context of SMEs, it’s the commitment of the management that often serves as a determining factor,” shares Dr Ulla Broms, CEO of Foibekartano. “In our case, our earnest exploration of AI possibilities has resulted in us expanding our professional network well beyond traditional limits. Furthermore, this has also put Foibekartano in an advantageous position in recruitment matters. It’s noteworthy that while many other companies within this sector in Finland are grappling with staff shortages, we’ve managed to maintain our appeal as a preferred employer. This can largely be attributed to our culture of innovation and our openness to experimentation, AI pilots included,” Broms adds.

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Charting the course: Building an AI strategy

The strategic utilisation of artificial intelligence and the management of customer data have been particularly emphasised at Foibekartano. The company is developing a comprehensive AI strategy that emphasises the protection and ethics of customer data, including also employee data. This is especially significant in the social, healthcare and welfare sectors, where the handling of customer data is strictly regulated. Foibekartano’s AI strategy not only enhances operational efficiency but also minimises risks associated with the handling of customer and employee data and potential risk situations. This approach underscores the protection of customer and employee interests and simultaneously creates a model for responsibly leveraging artificial intelligence.

Developing a clear AI strategy is a notable part of setting up the path for its future development, and gaining engagement and commitment from all parties involved. It is essential to take control of AI at a strategic level, to effectively utilise data in operational activities. The creation of an AI strategy is a task that ideally incorporates both the company’s internal and external interest groups, and offers avenues for addressing development efforts across a wide scope of the company’s business processes.

The incorporation of AI presents immense business opportunities for all industries moving forward, creating vast potential for the future. On this path, Foibekartano, like many other SMEs, is currently engaging in the deployment of AI, having grounded its AI strategy in data, leveraging the myriad of sensors and robots at its disposal. While still at the beginning of AI deployment across its business operations, the company recognises that by harnessing AI, the organisation is capable of tailoring marketing efforts to specific customer groups, resulting in more efficient and targeted promotions. This, in turn, offers good grounds for remaining competitive in the sector.

AI is a valuable resource both for external and internal processes, and it offers new possibilities for workforce empowerment through AI. Looking at the broader picture, AI simplifies everyday tasks, transforming job descriptions into roles that personnel find logical and appealing. This technology enhances not only the efficiency of tasks but also their attractiveness to the workforce.

AI acceleration practices show that it is essential to involve a larger number of employees in gaining AI skills and brainstorming about AI solutions. This helps to bring employees to the same understanding about AI and gets both the business and IT sides involved.

As a part of an AI strategy, there is a data strategy of an organisation. Enough quality data is essential for AI use case development. However, the situation might be different for some organisations, such as Foibekartano. Instead of a lack of data, the challenge often lies in the abundance and form of the available data. Foibekartano, for instance, has a significant amount of data that must first be transformed into a usable format. The key point here is that the healthcare industry is heavily regulated, and this needs to be respected and considered. Furthermore, as Foibekartano learned, the format of the company’s data was such that it was not initially intended for research or AI applications but rather for monitoring, surveillance, and ensuring the legal protection of customers and staff. In this case, there is an abundance of existing data; but the challenge, due to regulation, is determining which data can be utilised.

Leveraging AI in SMEs: Practical Tips and Insights

As we reflect on the journey of Foibekartano with AI and the invaluable insights gleaned from the AI-TIE AI accelerator, these experiences can serve as practical tips for SMEs venturing into creating their own AI story. Here are some key takeaways to ensure a successful AI integration:

  • Data-driven strategy: Quality data is the fuel that drives AI development. If an SME lacks this, the primary focus should be on overcoming this challenge before progressing with AI solutions. A sufficient amount of quality data is key, and industry-specific regulations need to be considered.
  • Investment in resources: AI requires a significant investment of resources, both in terms of time and finances. It is crucial to recognise and embrace this aspect from a business perspective to succeed in AI integration.
  • AI thinking across the organisation: AI integration is not limited to a specific team or department; it must permeate the entire organisation. This necessitates active communication and support to ensure everyone feels part of the valuable developmental process.
  • Exploiting AI opportunities: AI presents numerous opportunities for both internal process improvement and customer-facing solutions. Recognise and utilise these to boost efficiency and create exciting new products or services.
  • Courage and commitment: The journey into AI demands courage and unwavering commitment from an SME and its team members. Embrace the new, experiment, and be prepared to learn.

In conclusion, embracing AI is about leveraging the power of data and technology to drive competitiveness, growth, innovation, and internationalisation. With the right mindset, education, resources, support, and commitment, SMEs can fully tap into the potential of AI, just as Foibekartano has done.

This writing is part of the project “AI-Smart SME: Transformative Power of Utilizing AI for SMEs and Their Employees“. The project highlights the significance of AI as a journey of transformation at both individual and corporate levels. AI revolutionises the work environment and reshapes the roles of employees: the project supports the adoption of AI by SMEs and their employees. The project is implemented by Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences. Partners of the project include Business Helsinki, KEUKE, Western Uusimaa Chamber of Commerce, Health Tech Finland, Professionals of Business and Technology, Uudenmaan Yrittäjät, and Business Mentors Finland. The implementation of the project is supported in the role of financier by The Finnish Work Environment Fund.

About the Authors

UllaDr Ulla Broms is the CEO of Foibekartano, an elderly housing care, with the aim of offering diversified experiences and services that support a “good life community” for the elderly. Before joining Foibekartano, Dr Broms worked as a social and health service director in a municipality. With a long working experience in health care, she also has extensive knowledge of research at the University of Helsinki.

Dr. AnnaDr Anna Lahtinen, DBA, serves as a Senior Researcher at Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences in Helsinki, Finland. With a specialisation in the transformative effects of Artificial Intelligence (AI) on work life, businesses, and careers, Dr Lahtinen brings over two decades of comprehensive experience spanning industry, entrepreneurship, startups, and academia, both in Finland and internationally. Her work has led several research, development, and innovation projects aimed at implementing AI, supporting over 150 companies and organisations in leveraging AI technologies and developing related skills. An internationally recognised scholar, Dr Lahtinen is the recipient of the “Academic Paper Most Relevant to Entrepreneurs Award” from the United States Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship. Her recent publications include “Guide to Empowering SMEs with AI” and the “AI in Finland” video interview series, where Finnish influencers, industry leaders, and public figures share their experiences with AI.

Reference:

  • Lahtinen, A. (2023). “Empowering SMEs with Al: Success Stories, Tools and the Future 2030” [Webinar presentation]. Webinar: Artificial Intelligence in SMEs -Relatable Stories and Practical Tools from Finland; Finland, Helsinki. Presented on June 13, 2023.

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