Why we need to involve seniors in thinking about solutions to their health care needs

Dr. Tabassum Majid is the Executive Director of Integrace Institute at Copper Ridge.

Dr. Tabassum Majid’s journey to the world of health care began when she was tasked with taking care of her grandparents at various points when she was a teenager. After earning a P.H.d at Baylor College of Medicine, she returned to the University of Maryland where she researched care management decisions for caregivers and individuals with dementia. It was then that she decided she wanted to find a way to “impact lives” instead of “looking for solutions that would be implemented years from now.”

What led you to the world of senior care?
The opportunity at the Integrace Institute really found me, and I was attracted to its community-based model. We are dedicated to education and research to create evidence-based care practices for families and professionals who are supporting individuals living with neurocognitive change. We work closely with families who are living with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia to implement practices that will improve their quality of life — including those who live at home — and we are incorporating new technologies in a number of ways.

[I] care very much about debunking myths about older people, about what it’s like to live with dementia, or to be a caregiver. Older people have a lot of wisdom to contribute, and a great ability to guide and drive change. They want to be involved in the development and decision-making process, and if they don’t feel like they’ve been heard, they are not going to purchase the product or service being marketed to them. I think technology companies are most effective when they use a lean startup approach, involving their customers from the beginning and incorporating their feedback throughout the process.

What ways have you seen the health care industry change over the course of your career?
Across the board, healthcare is shifting to value-based payment models, and that’s been a big disruptor in the industry because it changes the metrics we use to evaluate our success. We used to care more about things like occupancy, census, and budget, and now we’re talking much more about quality, satisfaction, and growth potential. And that is tied directly into the rise of personalized healthcare, and providers finding ways to honor the needs and preferences of the individuals they are caring for and making them a partner in that care. And I’ve seen some nice sparks of the industry embracing new technologies to do that, even though I think as a whole we are still a little bit siloed in terms of integrating these technologies into our systems so that everything can talk to one another.

What role will technology play in senior care 10 years from now?
I think it’s a myth that older adults don’t use technology. This next generation of Baby Boomers is absolutely already using technology in a large way. Thinking that older adults will avoid new technologies because they find it scary just isn’t true. If this age group is slow to adopt a new technology, it’s because the industry hasn’t been able to capture the amount of questions they have about it in a way that makes them comfortable or the technology is not providing a solution they find familiar.

What advice do you have for entrepreneurs in this field?
I cannot emphasize enough that you have to listen to your customer and be willing to take some risks with that. We have to debunk the myth that older adults don’t use technology and start involving them in the development process from the start. You can’t just develop something that you think they need because it sounds cool or someone will give you money to do it. Your idea will not have traction without customers — and Baby Boomers are now becoming the largest population in the world. In this space, the definition of innovation doesn’t necessarily have to be a new and novel product or idea but might be how it is delivered in a user-centered manner. And that’s not how people typically think about technology innovation. But it’s so important to listen to, incorporate, and partner with the people who will be using your technology at every stage of the process and constantly revise, re-invent, and re-tool as you go along the way.

Dr. Tabassum Majid is the Executive Director of Integrace Institute at Copper Ridge.