Meet Quality Assurance Engineer Ed Otero

Ed Otero - Tel-Tron Quality Assurance Engineer.

Tel-Tron is constantly developing and delivering new and improved products to help senior living companies and the seniors they serve. An extremely important part of the product development process is ensuring the design meets Tel-Tron’s high standard for quality.

Ed Otero is Tel-Tron’s Quality Assurance Engineer, responsible for final testing and validation of new and existing product designs before they become actual products. Ed has been working with healthcare technology since 1986, involved in installing, maintaining, and testing of systems within hospitals and residential communities.

“I have always kept in the front of my mind that any and all products I touch could at any point in time be used to save someone’s life. This is the reason I have always taken extra care and pride in making sure that what I work on is tested and retested.”

Ed understands the negative impact a product defect can have on community operations and seniors’ lives. “I have always kept in the front of my mind that any and all products I touch could at any point in time be used to save someone’s life,” says Ed. “This is the reason I have always taken extra care and pride in making sure that what I work on is tested and retested.” 

Ed works diligently testing a Tel-Tron wireless transmitter

Ed works diligently at testing a Tel-Tron wireless transmitter

During the testing process, no product is released until it has passed every single test from start-to-finish and the product development team, including Ed, is satisfied that the product is worthy of release. “The tests are numerous and repetitive, and we push our products to the max to ensure that we are delivering only quality products,” Ed says. “I’m very proud to be a member of the Tel-Tron team and knowing that I am doing my part ensuring that every product that touches my hands or goes out the door could be responsible for saving someone’s life.”

Do You Have a Program Designed to Reduce Fall Risk?

Senior woman in wheelchair with caregiver

How do you use technology to mitigate resident fall-risk & maximize independence?

The risk is real
The awareness related to fall risks over the last few years is staggering. One in five hip fractures results in a death within a year of the incident. One in four seniors that fall and fracture a hip, who used to live independently, spend at least the next year in an assisted living or nursing home environment. It’s also a little concerning how little, as an industry, we’ve done to mitigate the risk. Fall detection is largely a waste, the damage is done, and unless the resident is unconscious automated fall detection devices do little more than let you know the horse is out of the barn.

What can you do?
Fall prevention programs need to be comprehensive and targeted. Do you evaluate the medications your residents are taking and develop specific and targeted prevention programs if their medication puts them at increased risk? If a resident has had a previous fall, do you know the likelihood of them falling again compared to those who have never had a fall? Are you putting technology and processes in place to create an environment which reduces a resident’s risk of a repeat incident? Knowing the precursors of a fall is a critical component to prevent it from happening.

For further reading on the risks related to falls and the possible outcomes, often life threatening, visit the CDC’s Website on Falls for Older Adults .

If you don’t currently employ technology to prevent a fall then contact your sales representative
(sales@tel-tron.com) to talk about what it takes to be successfully implement a fall prevention strategy.

To learn more about the benefits of Tel-Tron’s unique fall management technology, click here.

Maximize the Potential of Your Emergency Call System

Are Senior Living Management Teams Out of Touch? The Senior Care Investor www.seniorcareinvestor.com thinks so. In a year where many strong companies in our market grew at an impressive clip, others faltered. During these periods of growth the challenges of bringing on new buildings in different states of disrepair, staff members from different performance cultures, and resident occupancy varying greatly by geographical market have restricted earning potential for even the industry leaders. To steal a quote from the SeniorCare Investor’s most recent publication, “When someone figures out how to profitably run a large chain but maintain a mom and pop feel, then that company will top the return lists every year.” Whether you are the mom and pop provider or you’re trying to create that feeling within your community, personal attention to detail and a level of concern for the quality of life and security of your residents is what creates the “I’m home” feeling.

Being there when a resident needs you, responding with the same passion you would to your own family, being able to know when you miss and make it right; these are just the first steps to creating the feeling of home. You’ve got dinner, the air conditioning, the community bus, and putting green to worry about. Let us tell you when to worry about a resident’s security and emergency health needs require your attention. Let us take care of the compliance to your internal policies.

There is amazing new and innovative technology being created every day by us and companies like ours that goes under-utilized. Many of you already own it and just aren’t taking advantage of what you’ve already bought. All you have to do is invest the time to better understand how knowing what you don’t know can change the lives of your residents.

Here’s a quick tip to ensure that your key team members are really in touch with what happens at the front lines of your communities. Follow the steps below to enable a notification sent directly to your cell phone every time a resident waits more than ten minutes for assistance. You may think your front line is staffed appropriately and responding with the same passion you would, but this will let you know for sure.

Log into your Auditrak reporting package at www.auditrak.com and select the My Auditrak tab.

Select the Contact Methods link on your My Auditrak page and ensure that your contact information is correct.

 Once your contact information is correct go back to your My Auditrak tab and select the link for Event Notification Setup.

If I were interested in Emergency Call events I would select that option from the list, it’s the last item listed in the above image, then select the option for Report after and change the value to 10 minutes.  If I select SMS as the notification option I will now receive a notification every time an Emergency Call at the selected community reaches 10 minutes without being responded to by the staff onsite.  This will give any executive a real time feel for what’s happening at the community level.  Allowing you to intervene and change the experience of your residents in nearly real time can make the difference between the feeling of home and the feeling that they are alone an uncared for.

If you’re interested in having a discussion or seeing a demonstration about how the systems you already own can allow your team to better focus their time on what matters most and ensure that leaders in your company know when things aren’t right on the front lines send me an email at mgraham@tel-tron.com or give me a call at 386-523-1078 so we can start the changes today.

A National Standard for Emergency Call Systems (It’s on the way!)

In any Assisted or Independent Living community, the emergency call system is a significant link in the delivery of Life Safety for the residents. When help is needed, the expectation is that the emergency call system will reliably summon that help.

Despite this importance, however, emergency call systems are often treated pretty casually. Many think the various systems available on the market are all alike; they are not. Many assume that any system on the market must meet a nationally recognized standard; not so – there is no such standard – not today.

Nurse call systems for hospitals and nursing homes have had the ANSI/UL 1069 standard for many years. There are significant differences between application of nurse call and emergency call systems, however; applying a standard for nurse call to a residential property, such as Assisted Living or Independent Living, simply does not work well.

The standard for Assisted and Independent Living is coming, though. After almost seven years of work, a final draft of ANSI/UL 2560 has been posted on an internal UL web site for comment by members of the panel that will vote upon its adoption and other stake holders. Depending on the comments received, it will most likely be voted upon and adopted in early 2011.

 

The new 2560 standard covers hard wired and wireless emergency call systems. It requires minimum coverage of fixed call stations, allows portable devices (pendants) and specifies the maximum time from when an alarm is placed until it is reported. Generally, calls can be canceled only at the point from which they originated. (With certain exceptions, the call cannot be canceled from the desk.) All devices must be self testing and troubles must be reported within specified times. The standard requires backup power and obligates the manufacturer to state how long the backup power will last. It also requires that a battery powered device report a low battery and will continue to work for at least seven days after the low battery report.

The standard is very inclusive in terms of requirements. It provides no special advantage for any one manufacturer; most current manufacturers should be able to comply with only minor revisions to their products, if any. The standard also provides for future innovation by covering only the core life safety system. Ancillary features which were not envisioned by the standard can be added to the system provided they do not interfere with the operation of the core system.

This all started back in 2003 when Tel-Tron and a handful of other manufacturers formed the Emergency Call Systems Association (ECSA). The intent was to publish a consensus standard that would detail the minimum standards for an emergency call system. With no staff and no budget, the attempt never really got off the ground.

Then, in 2005, the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) picked up the ball. NEMA’s “Health Care Communications Group” expanded its role and became the “Health Care Communications and Emergency Call Systems Group.” Many of the companies from the by then disbanded ECSA were represented and the effort for a national standard resumed. A task group was formed to draft a standard and both NEMA and UL agreed to provide staff support.

 

Like all ANSI standards, 2560 represents a consensus of manufacturers, users, regulatory agencies, and National Recognized Testing Laboratories (NRTLs) and other stake holders. By rule, and to avoid building standards around parochial interests, manufacturers are a small minority of representation on a Standards Technical Panel (STP). In the case of this standard, the STP consists of 17 members, only 5 of whom are product manufacturers.

A white paper on the proposed standard has been prepared by NEMA and is available here http://www.nema.org/stds/sbp1.cfm. (The document is free, but NEMA is not immune from bureaucracy, so you need to create an account to download it.) In some areas, the white paper was predictive, and there are some discrepancies between it and the draft standard, but it still provides a good overview of the standard.

Once the standard has been adopted, it will take some time for manufactures to demonstrate compliance to an NRTL and become “listed.” Our industry is moving towards the time when owners, developers, and managers of Senior Living communities will have a trusted third-party evaluation of the emergency call systems they are considering for purchase.

Tel-Tron has always been dedicated to lifting the reputation and quality of our industry. A national standard is one way to do that. Our Brian Dawson was founder and president of the original ECSA. Brian is also a member of the Hospital Communications and Emergency Call Systems Group at NEMA. I chair the Technical Committee of that group, was a member of the task group that created the original draft of the standard, and wrote the NEMA white paper. I am also a member of the UL1069 STP (to which this standard has been assigned) and chair the task group charged with handling ANSI/UL 2560.

As the senior living industry continues to mature, the time for this standard has come. Resident safety is too important a topic – from both the humanity and legal points of view – to take a chance on a product that cannot meet minimum standards. Most manufacturers and suppliers of emergency call systems provide quality and reliable products. There are exceptions, however, and this new 2560 standard will allow communities to purchase compliant products with confidence.

All Senior Living Communities Are The Same!

Exhibit ASeriously.  Take a look at the web sites for the top senior living providers and see if you can spot the differences between them.  I’ve posted a few screen shots from a few just to prove the point.  Look at the mission statement graphic.  Is there a senior living company in existence that doesn’t claim to do ALL of those same things?

  • Friendly/Caring Staff
  • Beautiful Rooms
  • Great Food Service
  • Fun Activities and Social InteractionExhibit B
  • Regular Laundry Services
  • Transportation as Needed
  • 24 hour emergency response system
  • Etc., Etc., Etc.

So it is reasonable to assume all senior living communities are the same based on what they “claim” to be able to provide.  Deeper understanding isn’t necessary.  The only method to choose one from another would be whichever is cheapest.  Make sense?  It’s only where you will likely live the rest of your life.

To a person, my clients would say that is a ridiculous assertion.  And they would be right.

Having been in literally hundreds of retirement communities all over the United Exhibit CStates I can say with certainty that while the list of offerings is similar, all senior living communities are NOT the same.

In about 100 ways that don’t show up well on paper, I could easily describe the difference between a run-down old building, with criminal care givers, operated by a fly-by-night company and a well run, thoughtfully built and superbly managed senior living community – maybe even operated by a equally high quality corporate owner.  Every senior living executive knows instinctively that not all senior living companies, or communities, are created equal.  Far from it!

So help me with this.  Some of those same senior living executives – decision makers –believe that there is equality between all emergency call system providers simply because they claim to offer similar services.  For example, most of us claim to provide:

Does not the same logic apply to our industry and theirs?  You can’t have it both ways.  Isn’t it the design, manufacture and delivery of products and services that makes ALL the difference?  Of course.  There seems to be a strong desire for the flexibility that comes from buying commodity products – multiple sources, hyper-competitive pricing, etc.  But just pretending that a market is commoditized doesn’t make it true.  It does, however, alter your perceptions – incorrectly and potentially dangerously.

If you are using a commodity-based mentality to judge a non-commodity product/service you will make two mistakes.  1) You will assume the low price companies are decent quality and just being competitive.  Wrong.  They are inexpensive because they are cheap and poorly made.  2)  You will assume the high price companies are not better than the low price guys, they are just out of touch with current market prices.  Wrong again.

Being the Designer and Manufacturer Matters

Making A Difference

Delivering On The Promise 78 Times and Counting

In about 100 ways that don’t show up well on paper, I could describe the difference between a cheap PC based system, integrated with generic wireless components made by someone else, delivered by a clueless bunch of software guys, and a highly specialized emergency call system, made in America by a company that has invented nearly every feature of modern life safety systems, delivered and supported by the most experienced and committed emergency call professionals in the world.

So, no.  Not all senior living communities are the same. Neither are emergency call companies.

How Long Should Emergency Call Systems Last?

Forever.  Not really, but that is probably the only answer any buyer wants to hear.  These are technically advanced systems, so a multi-decade expectation is probably not realistic anymore.  That kind of thinking is a throwback from the days that emergency call systems were nothing more than a light bulb and a switch.

“It’s just not right that after just buying your systems 12 years ago we should have to spend money to upgrade them to the latest and greatest.  The whole emergency call industry has us bent over a barrel.  We have to have these systems, and you force us to upgrade them.”  — Actual conversation with the CEO of a major senior living provider and long term client.  His expectations are common, but not realistic.

So what is a realistic time frame?  And what should senior living operators expect for an End of Life process.  This article will attempt to answer those to questions and others.  I am running a risk here by shattering the dream of some buyers who genuinely think emergency call systems should last for 20+ years (and never need service).  However, candid discussion, and setting realistic expectations is how Tel-Tron has been in business for 65 years and why we still have our first ever senior living customer as a client.  Here it goes:

Product Life Cycle

Senior living operators should expect to get 10 years of performance out of an emergency call system.**  I star this statement because their are many mitigating circumstances that will extend this time period.  But let’s assume for sake of this discussion that no changes or upgrades are made to the system at all during its life.  Why only 10 years?  It isn’t the hardware.

Using rugged design philosophy, level III manufacturing techniques, and high quality components (all of which Tel-Tron does) will result in a system that will function in a perfect, temperature controlled, never touched by a human being environment  for 20-30 years.  We just replaced an old Tel-Tron system at Shellpoint Village that had been installed and working for over 25 years.  It is not the hardware that gives out and requires replacement.

Sure, sometimes components become obsolete and a replacement needs to be sourced. And, occasionally new technology is invented and wipes out an entire design methodology.  This makes continued manufacturing difficult, but won’t cause the system you already purchased to suddenly quit.  Just because they invented high definition TV doesn’t mean your old set will all of a sudden quit working.  That’s Murphy’s law, which is out of human control.  But these and other issues do relate to the primary reason products become obsolete and manufacturers issue “End of Life” notices.  Manufacture-ability and Supportability.

MicroScan System - Introduced in 1982

Manufacture-ability – If new components or technology is invented, the cost of continuing to manufacture the old way eventually becomes prohibitive.  For example, in an older Tel-Tron product we used an EEPROM chip that was less than $1 each.  Today, that same component is $25.  In other cases, it isn’t a matter of expense.  The part is simply unavailable.

Supportability – Take the EEPROM chip example above.  At some point, Tel-Tron was forced to design a new circuit board using a different EEPROM chip, and was required to write new firmware to support the new EEPROM chip.  At the same time we made a few other improvements and released a new product version.  At that instant, we were now supporting two versions of the same product.  In the product design world, that is called legacy product support.  The problem is that while the two products do the same thing (and because we’re good, the new one is also backwards compatible), repair of the old version is not feasible.  Over the course of a decade this process can repeat itself several times and at some point, it is simply too costly to maintain multiple versions of the same product.  This same level of complexity ripples throughout the organization.

Technical support, installation, customer service – even sales – all need to stay aware of product versions and capabilities.  When the weight of maintaining an multi-version, outdated product line is heavier than designing a new platform from scratch, End of Life announcement can’t be far away. Senior living operators deal with this issue all the time in their business.  The product in their world is the physical plant (the building) itself.  How many times have operators looking to grow their business had to make the build/buy decision.  It’s the same concept.

Think of the complexity of owning a senior living building that was built in multiple phases, expansions and refurbishments, over the course of 20 years.  Different electrical systems, wiring standards, wall construction, fire supression systems, hallway widths, etc.  The list is endless.  Every once in a while the decision is made to demo the building and start over.  It doesn’t happen often, but it happens.  Or maybe, like in the case of the Tel-Tron building, entire system are replaced.  We needed a new HVAC unit.  It was so difficult to retrofit to the old ductwork, we ripped out all the ceilings and replaced everything.  Sometimes a new platform is required. Their is no way to avoid an occasional End Of Life event.

Instead, we should focus on how long a product should last from time of purchase until End Of Life, and how the transition handled.  These two areas are a matter of corporate policy and reflect the character of the organization and its leadership.  And…a subject for a future blog post.

The personal touch

Like everybody else, I am a consumer.  I purchase products from many different companies.  However, as I think about those companies, I can’t say that I have a personal attachment to any of them.  I wouldn’t think twice about buying my next video game from Target instead of Best Buy.  To me, they’re all the same.  All except one.  I am fiercely loyal to Publix, a grocery store chain here in Florida.  I could cut my grocery bill by $20 by shopping at Wal-Mart.  But what sets Publix apart is CJ and Beth.  CJ is the bagger that often bags my groceries.  Beth is a clerk that often rings up my order.  CJ likes to go bowling on Friday and Saturday nights at the local alley.  Beth has a Pomeranian named Felix.  They both greet me warmly and I believe they sincerely mean it when they wish me a good evening.  I’m not the only one who feels that a personal touch makes for a better customer experience.  Here’s one of many articles available online about the topic – http://www.americanchronicle.com/articles/view/104972.

Cheyenne - Tech Support

This same attitude is what you get when you contact Tel-Tron.  This isn’t just a job for us, it’s our career and we enjoy doing it.  We give you plenty of options to contact us – online inquiries, online ordering, email, web cases.  But if you prefer to talk to a person, we’re here for you.

Brooke - Account Support

Brooke will answer virtually any question you have.  She’s getting ready to close on her first home, by the way.

Leah will field all of your invoice and billing questions.  She just had a baby boy.

Damon or I will solve all of your technical woes.  I’m a Wisconsin sports fanatic and Damon is a movie buff.

Damon - Tech Support

Sam might call you for a courtesy call and see if there’s anything you need.  She’s in our Phoenix office and enjoys attending music events.

Sam - Customer Success

We all develop relationships with our customers over time.  You’re not just another customer to us.  We’re your partner in ensuring the life safety of your residents.  We work together to keep your emergency call system working as you need it to work.  We understand how important your nurse call system is to you and why it’s important that it be reliable and running 24 hours a day.  We offer 24-hour emergency technical support.  When you call that number, you’re talking to Damon or me at home, not a call center somewhere else.

Whether you call us, email us, fax us, order online or create a web case online, we’re here for you.

Tel-Tron Technologies: Proudly Made in the USA

“Made in the USA”

Tel-Tron Technologies - Made in the USA

So I’m sitting on my couch this Memorial Day and it occurs to me being “Made in the USA” means more than a label on the bottom of a toy, although even finding one of those is becoming less and less likely without really making an effort to make that choice.  America’s rich tradition in manufacturing lives on at places like Holgate toys, Orb Audio and Tel-Tron Technologies.  Now I’m obviously a little partial to things “Made in the USA”, I don’t own a foreign car and I do my best to buy products that are made here or at least have an investment in our nation’s success.  I also get to choose where I work and what that says.  I work for Tel-Tron for a lot of reasons; one of them is that it’s an American owned and operated company.  I’ve worked for some pretty big technology companies in the past and the difference between an American owned company and foreign owned and operated company can be quite different when it comes to culture, decision making process and service.  Even taking small parts of your business and moving them offshore can prove to be an alienating and frustrating experience for business partners and customers.

Imagine that your new emergency call system is made by a company like ChinaCorp Healthcare Systems and you’ve been buying these systems for years, as a matter of fact you just put them in your new flagship community and proudly display your use of their product on your corporate website.  As luck would have it three years ago the manufacturer of your emergency call systems, China Corp Healthcare Systems had problems meeting their government mandated margins so they stopped their once semi-rigorous testing process in order to push more product out the door faster.  ChinaCorp Healthcare Systems makes lots of things; they also make defibrillators, thermometers and fluorescent light bulbs for the waiting room.  As the emergency call systems are rushed off of the assembly line and boxed so that resources can be diverted to the outgoing defibrillators twenty customers were just shipped the liability of a lifetime.  Nothing was tested, even though ChinaCorp Healthcare just started getting new memory chips from a new vendor.  Nothing was tested, even though their plant flooded last month and hadn’t been inspected or recertified by any regulatory agency.  Nothing was tested.

Things seem to be going pretty well it’s been a few years and no one has noticed any problems with ChinaCorp Healthcare’s new emergency call systems.  It’s Friday, because this sort of thing always happens on Friday, the phone rings and the IT administrator for your company calls and says there is a problem with the emergency call systems at your properties.  It’s “just stopped working” and it seems to have happened at three or four communities at once, he thinks you’d better get down there.

It’s the memory chip from the new vendor; it’s failed in fifty percent of systems.  ChinaCorp found out about it last month, they’ve been working on a new source for the problematic memory chips; the old vendor is making hard drives now.  They think they can have some replacements made in about four weeks and then there’s that six weeks to ship them here, by boat.  No ChinaCorp Healthcare doesn’t have an Engineer that can come over and take a look, no they don’t care that you’re inconvenienced, no they can’t find a temporary solution, no they don’t care when you talk to their technical support representative in Malaysia and get the runaround instead of the truth about what is happening.  As you contemplate the next ten weeks of operations, having to run your communities without emergency call systems it washes over you.  You remember when this happened last year it was a similar problem with your computer, it was a bad memory chip, you called Dell and they were there on Saturday, new chip, computer working.  I should have bought “Made in the USA”.  Here’s a link to a pro manufacturing in China blog, even pro outsourcing advocates understand the risk and difficulty of manufacturing goods in China and ensuring the quality is acceptable.

“Made in the USA” has always been synonymous with Made with Pride.  Nothing has changed.  I see the rigor with which Tel-Tron employees ensure the quality and reliability of their products every day.  It’s a level of dedication and loyalty that is hard to find.  I’ve seen our company make mistakes, it’s what happens after the mistake that differs us from ChinaCorp Healthcare.  We have integrity that doesn’t waiver.  Every product is “Made in the USA” and because we take pride in that, it has to mean more than where the equipment is manufactured.  Yes it’s manufactured here, yes it’s designed here, yes it’s supported here but so what, how does that make us any better than the next guy?  It’s a matter of pride, ownership and commitment.  It’s the ability to respond to an assembly line problem immediately, not weeks later.  We walk through our manufacturing floor every day.  We use the products that came off of the line every day.  We hold ourselves accountable and take pride in what we produce every day.

If you have ever bought an emergency call system from a company like ChinaCorp Healthcare then you have probably never met their CEO.  Their executive staff is probably never in your buildings.  The people that actually make the equipment that you count on to protect and even save lives is likely made by people that have no idea what the culture in your community is like, the pressure to never miss a call, the look of disappointment in the family members of those we have been entrusted to protect when their “widget” fails.  Our manufacturing team understands the nature of our partnership; they have spent time in your communities.  They understand that they are charged with manufacturing a product that they would trust to save their own mother’s life.  I doubt that anyone at ChinaCorp Healthcare has a family member in your community.  My grandmother passed away of natural causes in one of your communities, it had a Tel-Tron emergency call system.  She used it often and without fail.  My story isn’t unique.  Over half of our senior management team has had a loved one under our joint care; in your community and using our emergency call system.  We all sleep well every evening.  We know that we’re right around the corner.  We know that there are no lengths that we won’t endeavor to ensure that safety of or our charges.  We take pride in what “Made in the USA” means and we ensure that pride is reflected in the quality of every product, installation and customer interaction.

Why 312 MHz Kicks Butt for Senior Living Emergency Call Systems

When it comes to resident life safety, why would you take a chance having your wireless emergency call fail due to radio interference or being blocked by common building materials? Activate a Tel-Tron pendant or wireless pull cord and rest assured, your emergency call will get through, and help is on the way.  Unlike many of our competitors who use 2.4 GHz technology, Tel-Tron uses 312 MHz which is absolutely the best technology for penetrating building materials and is essentially free of interference from other transmitters operating at the same frequency.

Recently, I was surfing the web on my laptop at my son’s apartment as dinner was being prepared.  I noticed every time the microwave oven was being used in the kitchen my internet connection stalled.  In case you don’t know, the 2.4 GHz frequency spectrum is littered with intentional and unintentional transmitters – 802.11 Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Zigbee, microwave ovens, security cameras, cordless phones, baby monitors, etc. I couldn’t help but wonder how in the world some of our competitors could offer emergency call transmitters based on 2.4 GHz with all that potential interference out there. So-called, “Wi-Fi pollution” is an especially well-known problem in high-density areas such as large resident complexes with many Wi-Fi access points (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electromagnetic_interference_at_2.4_GHz).

In stark contrast, Tel-Tron wireless emergency call transmitters (pendants, wall-mounted call stations, etc.) operate at 312 MHz; far, far away from all that 2.4 GHz pollution.  Except for just a few garage door openers on the market (which operate very infrequently and are not likely to be near your residents), there is no comparable 312 MHz pollution.

And then there’s the issue of penetration. With all other things being equal, as frequency increases, range decreases.  This is most evident inside buildings, because higher-frequency radio waves are more vulnerable to absorption by building materials (such as drywall and concrete), and because higher frequencies are more directional (less apt to bend around corners).  Take a look at the engineering data graphic below that shows how much better lower frequencies penetrate reinforced concrete.  Sound waves share this transmission characteristic with radio waves: think how easily you can hear your neighbor’s low-frequency bass boom through your walls, but not the higher-frequency instruments or vocals.

Q: “Wait a minute Buddy … don’t some Tel-Tron products also utilize 2.4 GHz wireless technology?”

A: Yes we do, but not for resident emergency calls!  Rather, we embrace 2.4 GHz for our wireless high-speed network backbone whereby we use a fully-supervised “self-healing mesh” to contend with all the Wi-Fi pollution (our mesh approach is described here: https://blog.tel-tron.com/2010/05/15/network-heal-thy-self/.  The critical difference is that our pendants and wireless pull cords upload emergency call alerts to the network backbone using 312 MHz, not 2 GHz; residents are using the best-of-breed technology to make sure their emergency call penetrates though floors and walls and is not trounced by a Wi-Fi surfer or a rogue microwave oven.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that many of our competitors use 900 MHz for their wireless emergency nurse call systems.  That certainly is not as bad as 2.4 GHz.  Still, there are tons of 900 MHz cordless phones, wireless speakers, wireless headsets, etc. out there that clutter that frequency band too.  To attempt to compensate for losses and interference from other devices, they typically opt to transmit at higher power levels. Again, why not use “quiet” 312 MHz which is essentially interference-free and has the best wall/floor penetration, and gives you the greatest peace of mind?

Throw out that PC based system and get in the CLOUD!

Once upon a time, senior living communities paid someone to be at the front desk 24 hours a day.  They did this because the emergency call system consisted of a panel of lights and buzzers mounted on the wall.  If a resident needed help, a light would turn on and a buzzer would sound.  Someone had to be within earshot of this panel at all times, or calls for help would go unanswered.  Once they heard it, though, alerting the care givers that someone needed help was another inefficient and labor intensive task.

When Tel-Tron introduced pocket paging to the wireless emergency system call industry (100 years ago…) both problems were solved.  Care givers wore pagers and were alerted right away when a resident needed help.  This eliminated the need for panels of lights and buzzers, and the need to pay someone to watch them 24 hours a day.  This was a transformation of the way senior living providers operated their buildings and provided care to their residents.  Really, it would be hard to imagine not having pagers or some other mobile staff device today.

Portion of Auditrak Dashboard

What does this have to do with cloud computing?  Everything.  When Tel-Tron introduced Auditrak.com, another senior living transformation began.  With the release of the ethernet gateway for our CompanionOne product line, Tel-Tron’s nurse call system has completed it’s migration to the cloud.  What is the cloud and how does it help senior living, you ask?  Let me explain. (click here for the wikipedia definition)

In the pocket paging example above, people were slaves to the front desk, because that is where the alarm panel was located.  The “data” they needed to respond to resident emergencies was accessible from only one place – the front desk.  The same is true on PC based system today.

System programming information, resident usage metrics, audit trail reports, maintenance notifications, resident check-in data, even changing resident pendant codes is all located, stored and managed from the personal computer located on-site.  You have limited or no access to that data or functionality from outside the building.  You have limited or no way to keep all of that data backed up on a real time basis.  You have limited or no way to integrate that system with other systems located outside of the facility, such as your accounting, or resident management software.

Worst of all…..Once you buy a computer based system, you are saddled with never ending upgrades, maintenance contracts, having to replace the computer itself every couple years, your staff uses the computer to play games or surf the web (see previous blog about that particular nightmare), Microsoft changes operating systems routinely, loss of functionality during a power outage…  Really, the list of downside risks to a PC based system are endless.  What’s the answer?

Enter the cloud!  Instead of your entire emergency call system being controlled and run by a software program on a local PC, host all of that functionality in the cloud (on the internet).

Your on-site system includes all of the devices in the resident rooms, all of the mobile devices used by the staff, one or more alarm consoles, the wireless or hardwired monitoring infrastructure.  But the activity data, programming information, reporting software, charting and graphing software, trend analysis, and system monitoring is “hosted” offsite.  You access this site through an internet browser like Internet Explorer, Firefox, Google Chrome and Apple’s Safari.  Which means you do NOT buy a dedicated PC for the emergency call system.  You use any PC (or iphone, blackberry, ipad, etc) you want, from anywhere you want, whenever you want.

  • There is no software to upgrade on site, ever.  The hosted software is always current.
  • You don’t have to keep back-up disks, or tapes on site.  Your data is always on line and backed-up continuously.
  • You don’t have to worry about your staff breaking the computer, surfing the web, or otherwise messing up the PC.  Because THERE ISN”T ONE.  I know this is a mental leap.  But it is literally transformational to the industry.  Senior living CTO’s, IT managers, even maintenance people are loving the fact that their systems no longer are PC based or dependent.

Sample Report of All Alarms with a "Resident Wait Time" of more than 10 minutes

In addition, once your secure data is in the cloud, you don’t need to run reports any longer.  Establish operating parameters and reports will be automatically sent to you (or anyone else) whenever something occurs outside those parameters.  Two small examples:  Many Executive Directors get a report emailed to them every morning listing any emergency call where the resident’s wait time was longer than 10 minutes.  Regional Operations Directors have this same report sent to them monthly for all communities in their territory.  Regional Maintenance Directors get a weekly report automatically emailed to them of all system trouble items that have occurred, and not resolved in the appropriate time.  I know, that was three examples, but the possibilities are endless.

Last one..any notification can be sent via email, or text message.  Some Operations Vice Presidents want to know right away if there is an elopement activity such as a window alarm, or “screen removed” alarm in an memory impaired section.  Elopement is a big deal these days and an early heads-up is helpful.

I know this is a lot to take in and understand, but having your emergency call systems data hosted and managed in the internet cloud, means a whole lot less headache for on-site staff related to computers, and an almost limitless opportunity for growth and integration in the future.  Just as pagers changed the industry in the late 80s, cloud computing will change senior living over the next few years.  Just browse on over to Auditrak.com and you’ll see what I mean.

I didn’t talk specifically about this, but having a single hosted location for systems data and management is exponentially more valuable if a senior living operator has multiple sites.

One day we’ll look back and say…”Remember when we used to have a PC run our emergency call systems.  How did we ever survive?”

Enough Already. The PC has to go!

Dig hole in sand....Insert head!

All you have to do is read words in this picture, which was taken by one of our salespeople when touring a community that just installed a new emergency call system from a competitor.  WOW!  I cannot believe that someone would actually write that memo – clearly aware of the implications of not obeying – and think that just writing a note makes everything OK.

IT’S NOT OK!   You are tasked with making sure that a resident’s call for help gets answered.  And for lots of reasons, including this one, a personal computer is a completely inappropriate engine for an nurse call system.  In case you can’t read the picture, here is what it says.

“Please do not use this computer to go onto the internet.  This computer runs our nurse call system and is vitally important.  Thanks, Jane.”

Jane – Rather than writing a memo, you should have thrown that system out and replaced it with one that is not computer based.  Can any of you think of a single system that is a life safety device that runs on a Windows computer?  Please leave a comment to this post if you can.

Defibrillators? No.  Airplane Avionics?  No.  Dialysis Equipment? No.  Automobile Electronics?  No.

When you hear about someone who is on “life support,” do you think it would be wise to have that equipment run by a Windows computer?  No way.  So why is it OK to put the lives of senior living residents in the temperamental control of a Windows personal computer?  Short answer….It isn’t!  They freeze up.  They need rebooting.  Software needs updating.  They aren’t battery backed up for longer than a few minutes.  Really the list is endless.

Staff can close the program.  Staff can turn them off (on purpose, or on accident).  And, as in the case captured in this picture, staff can browse the internet while calls for help go unanswered.  It simply isn’t necessary.

On an enterprise quality nurse call system, the main servers, switches, routers and gateways use embedded systems, industrial microcontrollers, sophisticated power supplies, elaborate supervision and battery back-up methodologies.  There are design tolerances measured in sub-1% range.  User GUIs are browser based and access data on the system, but do not control the system.  Visit Auditrak.com, for an example of a killer call system GUI that resides in the cloud.

As I looked at the picture in the beginning of this article, I was so frustrated at the lack of seriousness with which Jane took her role as caregiver.  In fairness, Jane probably did not select that system.  Someone at her corporate office, who doesn’t have to respond to an emergency call – ever – probably picked it as a result of their beauraucratic purchasing system.  Still…the kind of compromise and accommodation Jane is forced into is simply not necessary.  There are other options.

Wireless Network….Heal Thy Self!

Every time I hear someone say “wireless emergency call systems are pretty much all the same” it makes my want to pull my hair out.  While it is true that many systems have a similar mission, there are very few similarities in how the mission gets

Click here for a tutorial

 accomplished.  Here is a HUGE, IMPORTANT, SIGNIFICANT, FUNDAMENTAL, MEANINGFUL  example.  Enough emphasis?

On most wireless networks used for emergency call systems, if one access point (transceiver) fails, YOU LOSE EVERY OTHER RECEIVER DOWN LINE.  That’s because signals “hop” from one transceiver to the next all the way back to the computer.  Any break in the chain and the call for help goes unanswered.  GOOD ENOUGH for email, surfing the web, etc.  BAD IDEA when the data being transmitted is a person’s call for help.

That is why Tel-Tron never designed an emergency call system using the point-to-point wireless networking scheme described above.  In 2008, we released our version of a wireless network using what is called a “Self Healing, Wireless Mesh Network.” Translation:  If any access point fails, the downline access points can automatically reroute.  The network self-heals.  And, since all Tel-Tron systems are fully supervised, the system will alarm and display which access point has failed.  As of this writing, no other company is offering this level of wireless network service.  (No other company designs and manufactures their own wireless products…..but that is a post for another time.)  For a neat flash based tutorial on this topic, please click here.

Even the chip manufacturer was impressed, and published a “Customer Success Story” on our implementation. Check it out.

I suppose a rough analogy is the difference between run-flat tires and standard tires.  With a standard tire, if you get a flat your trip is over until you change the tire.  With a run-flat tire, if you get a flat, you are notified, but your trip is uninterrupted.  That kind of safety and redundancy seems like a great idea if you were a woman driving alone at night through a sketchy part of town on your way home.  Or, if you were a senior living resident who was counting on your call for help getting answered.

There are hundreds of differences like this between wireless nurse call system providers.  So, no, emergency call systems are not all “pretty much the same.”

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Never Miss a Staff Rounds Check Again!

Many senior living operators have a problem.  There staff is supposed to be checking on certain residents on a regular basis, but there is no way to prove that it was actually done.   A quick software upgrade to your Tel-Tron emergency call system and you can guarantee that you will never miss a room check again.

Simply install a “staff check-in” device in each area where the staff is supposed to show up.  Tell the software how often a staff person is supposed to be in that area (hourly, daily, weekly, etc.).  If the staff check-in device is not used in the time window you set-up, an alert will be displayed on the system, alerting management and staff that a check-in has been missed.

For example….Let’s suppose that you are supposed to be doing 2 hour room checks in your dimentia units.  First, you install a “staff-check” button in each unit.  Then, you tell the system (through the software) that each unit should have a staff visit every two hours.  Now, let’s pretend that it has been two hours and no one has pressed the “staff-check” device in Mrs. Smith’s room.  You will get an alarm on your system – pagers, console, text message – whatever — that says “Two Hour Check Missed – Mrs. Smith, Room 1.”  The only way to clear that alert is to actually go to Room 1 and press the staff-check button.

No one likes to talk about it, but every manager knows that FORCED COMPLIANCE with policies and procedures is the best way to make sure the appropriate actions are taken.   With “Staff Check-In” activated in your community, you can be sure that all of your rounds are being completed.

(You can use this for building rounds at night, too.  Put a staff-check button in hallways, libraries, laundry rooms, or anywhere you want your staff to be on a regular basis.  Then tell the system how often they should be there and you can be SURE that your staff did what they were supposed to do).

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