Post CES reflection on role of technology and Alzheimer's.
Boston, mid-May, 2016
Remote monitoring, a household product category? Vendors in the remote monitoring world were no doubt thrilled when a few weeks ago we were treated to a wave of news stories -- the New York Times, CBS News, the Wall Street Journal and probably a number of other outlets that syndicated these. Clearly, free buzz is the best marketing any tech vendor can get -- and it is good to raise consumer awareness about a market category with fewer than 10,000 deployed units (a sum of the installed base as described to me by vendors). Generally these stories have been superficial -- hey, these are news stories, after all. They briefly mentioned a randomly selected set of tech vendors, and perhaps whetted the appetite of consumers to consider their use. Never mind that there are numerous barriers and constraints that have, to date, limited adoption of remote home activity monitoring due to issues of pricing, reimbursement expectations, a well-established set of product capability and features, and a well-developed distribution model.
Here comes NPR -- possibly the most misleading of the lot. That's a tough claim to fame, but the two tech segments -- packaged up as "Aging at Home: Helping Seniors Stay Put" might better have been titled "Considering obscure and narrow-cast ways to help a few seniors stay put." Part 2 of the series introduced a new market entrant, AdaptiveHome, as a remote monitoring alternative. That's right, you Google them. We heard nothing about price, how the clients found them, who the competition is, with/without responder/home care services (what if the adult kids are on vacation?) - or what the degree of adoption in this market is today. What we did hear is about research projects at the MIT AgeLab -- love those folks, but you will not be shopping any time soon for that 'Smart Trash Can.' And the other 'Wired Home segment' was about the use of ResCare, a $600-1000 per month home care agency service that includes a call center operator viewing video into the senior's home. Nice idea, but an attribute of home care agencies that is not yet a mainstream service -- in an industry that is not yet broadly deploying technology.
Despite NPR -- the remote monitoring industry is moving forward. In recent weeks, a number of entrants have begun piloting new systems and new versions of offerings in the remote activity monitoring space and will soon be officially launching. Last year, I counted up 4 notable industry players: QuietCare, Healthsense, WellAWARE Systems, GrandCare Systems -- then added AFrameDigital (funded by NIH research grants) and BeClose (spun out of Alarm.com). In recent months, GE's QuietCare unit was spun off into a new joint venture with Intel -- signalling opportunity ahead both for them and for startups that they may need in order to grow. WellAWARE received substantial investment and is now part of a large effectiveness study launched through Good Samaritans. And today, Healthsense received a new investment round led by Radius Ventures.
Will remote monitoring become a direct-to-consumer product? Maybe we'll see remote monitoring packages on store shelves in a few years -- but publicity is one thing, product knowledge is another. Just as the consumer may be suprised to learn about remote monitoring, the full senior value chain may also be in the process of discovering best -- or worst -- practice. As Liddy Manson, CEO of BeClose.com, told me recently: "It's early for direct-to-consumer sales of this category: more awareness must be created. If you want to move quickly, cultivating partners speeds up the process." So hopefully the NPR story will be helpful, along with the myriad of others, since this topic seems to have caught the is-there-an-echo-in-here imagination of the press.
And a slight digression -- for a reality and quite touching check-in on how seniors live now in the 6 settings of today (home, multi-generational family, home with home care, assisted living, nursing home) -- check out the Columbia Journalism School videos in this NY Times link.