What's for dinner? The inTRAnet in independent and assisted living communities

What do you do when you want to go out with friends or family for a nice meal? Chances are that if you are feeling adventurous and in the mood for trying something new, you may suggest going to a restaurant you have never been to before. But how do you know if you and your guests will like the restaurant? Of course you can check for reviews of the restaurant or ask others about their experiences there—but a good starting point may be to check the menu to see if the food offered sounds good. Many restaurants post their menus online for easy viewing to attract potential customers. Similarly, many CCRCs post their dining hall menus online so that residents can take note of the food being offered on a given day (and can thus plan their meals more easily), and it also allows the residents' families to know what they are eating and may attract (and prove to be a selling point for) people looking to move into a CCRC. Posting menus provides a convenience to residents.

However, the benefits of such postings will be realized only if residents know how to use the Internet and can navigate to the menu. Such a task may prove especially difficult for those with little to no computer experience, as navigating to the menu requires multiple steps and skills: turning on a computer, mastery of a keyboard and mouse, being able to get online, using a search bar to navigate to the official CCRC website, and using computer menus and tabs to find the meal menu on the CCRC site. For the computer savvy, this is a straightforward process; for the inexperienced, this can prove incredibly taxing. In previous chapters of this book, we outlined tips and suggestions instructors can use to teach CCRC residents to better accomplish these tasks; an alternative, however, could be to implement an intranet system into the community for residents to use to more easily access menus and other CCRC information.

Prior to discussing how an intranet presence can affect CCRC communities, it is important to differentiate between the Internet and intranet. Despite sounding similar, the two terms refer to very different systems. The Internet represents a network of connected computers that allows for the flow of communication and information across a variety of connected devices, such as computers, smartphones, and tablets. When we refer to the Internet, it is assumed that we are talking about a global network—a person using the Internet in California can communicate with a neighbor across the street, or with a family member in New York, or with a stranger in Australia. But whereas the Internet refers to a global network of connected devices, the term "intranet" is much more restrictive; it instead refers to a connected set of devices of a private group or organization. With an intranet, individuals using connected devices can only communicate with others who are also connected via the intranet. Whereas the Internet is public, an intranet is typically thought of as private.

Many employers use some form of an intranet to make sure that communication between employees remains confidential. As an example, people who work within healthcare often use an intranet so that doctors and nurses may communicate with one another about the specifics of a patient's treatment without risking that information being out on the open Web. Confidentiality is a key reason that many organizations restrict communication to an intranet. But another important reason many organizations may use an intranet is that employees have a much more streamlined computer system through which to share information. Consider email as an example. If someone wanted to send an email using the Internet, he or she could do so using a variety of different email clients (Google, Yahoo, Microsoft Office, to name but a few) and a person could receive an email from a variety of different accounts created using any (or all) of those clients. On an intranet, however, everyone would use the same email client, making communication easier and more straightforward. On an intranet, usually there are only a handful of programs, websites, and applications at a user's disposal. Only certain activities can be done, and only certain people can be contacted; but despite (or because of) these restrictions, communication and information sharing can be easier and more efficient. There is less freedom, but those on the intranet can accomplish tasks more quickly and be more productive.

So why talk about an intranet in CCRC communities at all if we typically see it used in employer-employee settings? After all, CCRC residents do not work for the communities they live in. Even so, there is a move toward incorporating an intranet into many of these communities specifically for residents and staff to be able to communicate with one another. Let us go back to the example of searching for a menu online. A resident who wanted to use the Internet to find out what was for dinner at the CCRC on a particular night would have to use a variety of skills to navigate to the correct website and find the menu. If, however, a resident wanted to use a CCRC-restricted intranet, it could be that the menu is much more readily available and easier to view. An intranet system can be designed to have an icon on a computer home screen that links specifically to the menu for the day. A resident would not have to use a search bar to find the CCRC official website nor would he or she have to wade through the site's links and tabs to find the correct webpage; all the resident would have to do is to click on the intranet link and he or she would be right at the day's menu.

Intranet systems can be specifically designed to accommodate the various needs of residents and staff. An email system or an instant-messaging application can be incorporated so that residents and staff can easily communicate with one another. An alert system can be incorporated so that residents can call for help should they or a neighbor be in trouble (e.g., if a neighbor experiences a fall). Links can be installed into the computer home screen so that residents can easily access frequently used applications such as a world news application, a weather application, or even a health encyclopedia with reliable health information (thus putting less pressure on residents to not only find but also evaluate health information found on the Internet). Finally, in addition to dining hall menus, other CCRC information can be made readily available so that residents do not have to go to the Internet to find it: for example, telephone numbers for medical personnel, maps of the community, staff biographies and credentials, and a list of activities and their times and locations for the month. The implementation of an intranet means that residents may not be able to accomplish as much compared to other systems because there would be restrictions; however, many intranet systems do allow users to still access the Internet if need be, so more computer-savvy residents could still go surf the Web if they wished.

The immediate and apparent downside of an intranet system is that it requires specific tailoring to the community and the residents; because an intranet is designed to be efficient and easy to use for certain groups, no one system is applicable across all CCRCs. CCRCs must work with computer programmers to develop a system that caters to the needs of the facility, an endeavor that in the short term can prove costly both in time and in money. The long-term benefits, however, can outweigh these costs because a successfully implemented system can potentially promote the well-being of residents, make residents' lives happier and less stressful, and provide tools for staff to administer better care.

In our training program, we actually had one community ask us not to come in and do an information and communication technology (ICT) intervention because they were implementing their own intranet. Their reasoning was that because their new intranet system would look vastly different from a typical computer, having two separate trainings (one for basic ICT use and one for their new system) might prove confusing to residents, especially those who had never used a computer before. Thus, rather than have us come in to do the ICT training, they held their own training interventions focused specifically on the intranet that they had installed.

If a CCRC opts to use an intranet system in the community rather than a more typical Internet-connected system, many of the principles outlined in the book (regarding the tailoring of training) will apply. However, trainers may have the added burden of assisting with the development of the intranet or in the learning of it themselves. Such obstacles should be planned for prior to scheduling an intranet-training program.

 
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