Post CES reflection on role of technology and Alzheimer's.
Boston, mid-May, 2016
Are Health and senior tech products used consistently and to purpose? When the ultimate user is not necessarily an enthusiastic participant in product use, forget it. Consider the factors noted in Donna Cusano’s recent Field of Dreams post on Telecare Aware, summarized by: “Know you need/want the product. Okay, then it must be Easy to use, providing positive reinforcement (with social and community support) – and I would add, affordable. 1) Ease of use (let’s also assume that the product works!), 2) reinforcement, 3) affordable. Pick two, you can’t have all three. (Note I didn’t say pet-rock trendy, much loved by Walt Mossberg and shown off in coffee shops.)
When all else is equal, positive reinforcement is the key. If there is something in it for the user that is apparent in regular usage, where the user is the buyer, and it meets the other requirements, then happiness rules, the user pays the price, subscription fee or whatever, only dropping it when something even more useful can replace it. On the other hand, when tech offers an indirect or deferred benefit to the user (telehealth, any fitness/wellness apps, passive activity monitoring, PHR/EMR, home security systems, or various PERS), without positive reinforcement, why should the user keep the tech ON and in use? The only motivation then becomes FEAR – of falling, of break-ins, of physical breakdown, of memory loss, of being re-hospitalized. Observes Frost and Sullivan about the PERS market: "However, these traditional systems are simplistic and they are of little help in actual prevention and life management. As the PERS market evolved from the securities market, issues of maturity and severe sales practices that do not bode well for the long-term growth have also restrained the market."
Isn’t it time for telehealth, PERS etc, products to give back to the user? GrandCare Systems is surely a pioneer in enabling a passive monitoring system to use the term “communication and monitoring system” about its offering, Independa’s Angela “for fun and social engagement” along with the medication reminders, focusing on prevention versus fear, as with BeClose. Contrast that with the face-down/on the floor joylessness of Lifeline or the frowning (and floor-bound) woman in the TV ads from LifeAlert? The software investment is low to add some content, some reassurance and social connections to the fearful people (and their families) that might be transfixed by those ads.
It’s never enough to leave well-enough alone. ‘If the strategy ain’t broke’ theory keeps traditional PERS, telehealth, and passive monitoring companies behaving exactly the same from one year to the next. But even for the entrenched and heads-down, the success from rear-viewing the mirror is time-limited. Channel partnerships may be limited – if you’re counting on senior housing executives’ enthusiasm, perhaps reading the latest Senior Housing News might give pause. As one of the largest, Brookdale, reported to its investors: “The average age of those living in independent living has shifted a few years older to the mid-80s with the average age of assisted living residents in the late 80s to early 90s-- the older prospective residents represent a “smaller pool of age and income qualified people.” It wasn’t long ago that this industry was thriving and growing, built on the inexorable forward motion of an aging population. Oops.