I was compelled to attend. AAHSA 2009 "Changing Lives" Conference -- 9000 people, 425 exhibitors. This was a beautiful (and may soon be gone) venue -- McCormick Place Lakeside Center. Gorgeous multi-story windows facing the 180 degree panorama of nearly boat-free Lake Michigan. Turn the other way, and you faced the AAHSA Idea House, an attractive and interesting layout of cool design ideas and enabling technologies for the home.
In the middle and all around -- the AAHSA multi-day training program for professionals in the non-profit segment of the senior care and housing industry, spanning adult day, home health, community services, senior housing, assisted living and CCRCs. That is an industry, particularly the independent living segment, that is under siege, given the desire (and financial need) for people to stay in their homes.
The AAHSA Idea House, an exhibit within an Exhibit. Vendors fought to get space in this house, even a corner, because it was a magnet for show attendees and a far more visible way to rise above the overall Exhibit Hall chaos. Although the house included the Intel Health Guide, most of the tech vendors were not household names. There was a very cool Digital Door Viewer for home security from Home Technology Systems. There were clever kitchen items like the 'CookStop' from Home for Life Solutions, which monitors an electric cooktop for whether it has been turned too high or not turned off.
There was Tabsafe, a medication dispensing canister unit (not different from MedSignals, Medminder, however.) And myHalo Advanced Fall Detection -- a wearable body sensor that recognizes falls and automatically alerts. Software vendors like It's Never 2 Late (www.IN2L.com) and MyWay Village -- both providing social software environments for residential facilities, Intel Health Guide was there to monitor chronic disease status, well as GrandCare Systems, which offers an all-in-one monitoring and wellness software suite and WellAWARE, which includes sensor-based monitoring, fall and pattern detection.
Far and away the most mind-boggling technology in the place, though, was the Robot Suit "HAL" (Hybrid Assisted Limb) from Japanese Cyberdyne, Inc. When the robot suit is strapped to a stroke victim or an otherwise weakened individual, HAL lifts their legs and boosts them into a standing position and 'walks' with them up stairs or down the hall. As noted by one observer, imagine how HAL could empower a 100-pound nursing assistant or home care aide with the lifting capacity of a 200-pound body builder! As an enabler in a rehab facility or skilled nursing facility, its reputed price tag of $4000 looks like a bargain. And in the labor-starved Japanese elder care industry, a robotic device like HAL could be a lifesaver in every sense.
The Exhibit Floor -- a gaggle of gear, goods, gadgetry, and guidance. Out on the exhibit floor, there were (self-classified) 19 emergency response system vendors, 16 construction firms, 27 medical products and services companies, 46 computer/data management/software companies, and 52 consulting companies. There were demonstrations of bathtubs and Hoyer lifts -- wouldn't it be nice if HAL replaced those truly terrorizing devices!
What impressed me the most? I get very excited when I see something new that clearly focuses on improving quality of life. SpectiCast offers senior housing residents the ability to 'subscribe' to live streaming broadcasts from the Philadelphia Orchestra 2009/2010 Concert Series -- as well as author events and chamber music concerts. Described by the vendor as offering a competitive advantage for senior living operators, I gotta agree.
And I was just as impressed with GE's InBody720 scale that detects body mass, muscle mass, and other body composition metrics and produces a report. It's not connected to any other data source and offers no advice on what to do about it and I can't even find it on GE Healthcare's website. But what if that device was combined (through partnerships) with a program for fall prevention, like Erickson Health's FallProof program, presented elsewhere at the conference -- now you have something that can contribute to dealing with the issue of muscle loss in older people, which we know is directly related to issues of poor balance and fall risk.
Bottom line -- AAHSA and CAST together do not accelerate tech adoption momentum. Don't get me wrong -- this is a great event for anyone in the technology industry who wants to understand and target the value chain in which services for seniors fit. Several vendors I spoke with closed deals there for substantial revenue. So that's good and proves that face-to-face works.
But is this an event in which sponsoring organizations evangelize speedier adoption of existing technologies or is this mere (paid booth) acknowledgement of their existence? Who okay'd a fall prevention seminar without mention of any related technology? What was the benefit of panelists at the CAST technology event advising facility owners that the first step in introducing technology to their environment is to 'identify needs'? How helpful is vague commentary on how vendors engineer first, then figure out uses later?
- Vendors compete with inaction, not each other. One vendor speculated that all of the technologies represented at the show together represent at most a 5% adoption rate among the populations they could serve. And that's probably just in the US. The biggest competition for all of these vendors is inaction and lack of awareness.
- No manager of an ALF or SNF can 'identify their needs' in a vacuum. Maybe that's why there are 52 consulting companies listed in the AAHSA book. But remember direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising's "Ask your doctor"? Ask your Assisted Living Facility if your mom or dad can subscribe to SpectiCast's Philadelphia Orchestra series. Hmm. You're not going to do that if neither you (nor your mom's ALF) have any idea what it is. Perhaps memberships in CAST could be well utilized if they rotated awareness infomercials about product categories and examples of vendors.
- Vendors need pilots to refine a cool tech idea into a great solution. Product designs should be immediately followed by small scale proof of concept pilots -- how should vendors find organizations to sponsor? Good question. Vendors should be encouraged to integrate their very focused technologies with other vendors of related technologies. Everyone in the Idea House should have already been or shortly be enrolled in an AAHSA member pilot.
Wait until next year. Well-articulated step-by-step paths to adoption, CAST-sponsored infomercials, testimonial about actual product uses to solve actual care delivery issues, market penetration and growth analysis, and a clear pilot enrollment and product validation process -- spanning senior housing, professional caregivers, family caregivers, and seniors -- let's have that be the goal for CAST and AAHSA 2010.