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In 2014, will technology for seniors be absorbed into digital health?
A long holiday stretch ends. No, I’m not talking about Christmas decorations in shopping malls. The media frenzy that was CES 2014 may soon wane away, although post mortems and predictions persist. So let’s review: there were Silvers Summit exhibitors (6) and then there was Digital Health (77). For CES health-related overall, count 170 per Mobile Health News – and that includes "e-Cigarette makers that categorized themselves as Digital Health." See one of a few cynical posts – where we can find a new word -- track-a-holism -- and a new slogan -- "sitting is the new smoking." But in the Digital Health exhibit list, note the presence of GrandCare and Independa – two long-standing players in what could have been categorized at a different event as senior technology.
Is a narrow niche narrowing further? Silvers Summit had a session called Seniors and Technology: Oil and Water or the Perfect Cocktail? Good question that could be asked about product designers, consumers, their families, or the media. Technology for older adults spans multiple categories – gee, maybe that’s because long lives well-lived span multiple categories. But are the categories simply too broad for the marketplace, given the evolution of consumer technology and growing older adult online access? Consider social, health, safety, lifelong learning, fitness, and buying online. Now rephrase: Facebook, WebMD, Nest, MOOCs, Fitbit, and Amazon. What do these six have in common? They do not specify (or exclude) the demography of older adults. The assume that if an older person wants to participate, they will. There are outliers -- the unpleasant exception of Amazon’s 50+ bizarre bazaar that enables you to get your defibrillator and incontinence supplies in a one-stop shop. How convenient. Now look at what a Durable Medical Equipment supplier offers. Strikingly similar to that Amazon site, isn’t it? And with Medicare/Medicaid budgets dwindling over the coming years – is Amazon betting that what was reimbursed by insurance will move into its own private pay shopping carts?
Older seniors are in that DME-like niche – all the rest today is healthcare. The players in the market clearly see the health-related opportunity – just take the offering changes at GreatCall – what do you do with a large installed base of seniors who are aging – perhaps from their 70’s into their 80’s and beyond – and whose family members want to see them remain independent? You use the platform’s installed base to move deeper into the health-related services businesses. AARP has tagged its search for startups and innovators Health@50+. The platform for a target audience has become an underlying assumption – whether it is online access through a PC, MAC, a smart phone or a tablet. The taxonomy of technology thus fits onto a platform-plus-service, where service for older adults is related to health, and all other services become age-agnostic – or maybe age-indifferent.
Age agnosticism – does it harm the oldest population? The shrunken CES Silvers Summit exhibit list may be just the tip of an evaporating iceberg – the PERS market survives, but likely only until waterproof (like that Sony phone) and long battery life become the standards for mobile phones adopted by seniors. Old will soon be a euphemism for the VERY old, as boomers, now 68 at the top end, reject the concept that they are aging at all. Instead, they are seizing the day, emulating the young: My Fitbit, Myself. Consider MetLife’s Mature Market Institute shutdown, Pew’s dwindling number of Generations reports, AARP’s Health@50+ -- are these signals that the market does not imagine 'young old' or even 'middle old?' The boomer trend is to deny that anyone is aging, therefore the health-related tech market -- will apply to all. And then there are those who need or must provide services for the very old. Soon the overlap of these markets will be disappear. Will that be by the end of 2014?