Post CES reflection on role of technology and Alzheimer's.
Boston, mid-May, 2016
This has been going on for some time -- the slow or no growth in the home security industry -- and the potential for expanding into a new line of business offering Personal Emergency Response Systems (PERS), aka 'medical alarms'. This security industry article outlines the great opportunity for home security providers and their 'rapid response' (RMR) call center vendors. These paragraphs from the article about the anticipated boom (11.6% annual growth) caught my eye - and particular items are here in bold:
1) First the security dealer entering the PERS market:
"Jason Caldwell, operations manager of Carelink, a subsidiary of Select Security Systems in Albuquerque, N.M., started offering PERS more than a year ago and is finding it profitable.
"I'm having success in this," he reports. "The more I get out there, the more referrals I'm getting." He concurs with MacDonnell that PERS does call for a different business approach. Embracing, rather than resisting the differences between selling traditional security systems and PERS has played a big part in Caldwell's success.
"There's a huge psychological component to this I wasn't prepared for," he admits. "It's much different for me than dropping off a fire alarm at a hotel in Albuquerque..."
"It's inexpensive. When people are at this time in life they look at the cost of facilities, and they're astronomical. PERS doesn't come with all the benefits of a medical facility, but it costs only about $35 a month to monitor and a one-time $50 install fee, compared to thousands of dollars a month for an assisted living or nursing home facility," he says. "Even with all the bells and whistles, depending on how much monitoring is needed, we'd never break $100 a month for the PERS service."
2) Now the call center provider -- quoting Kevin McCarthy, National Sales Manager for EMERgency24:
According to McCarthy, dealers that offer PERS will be able to build an RMR stream with minimal service. "For most installations, all that's needed is a working electrical outlet and a live telephone line," he says. "Also, because installation is simple enough that senior citizens often do it themselves, EMERgency24 will even take receipt of the hardware from the dealer, preprogram it and drop-ship to the end user for a small fee."
Are these folks taking advantage of caregivers and seniors -- with a 'service' that isn't? Well, here's my take -- this bonanza for security vendors is a potential nightmare. This invites vendors who know nothing about seniors and less than nothing about how to mitigate the risks of falls faced living in their homes. Maybe it is an obstacle course of furniture, a shaky or inappropriate walker, inappropriate prescriptions that make them dizzy when they stand up, or they have problems resulting from dementia or isolation. Forget whether they put the PERS pendant on or not (hmmm -- maybe it's not such a savings for them if they don't -- see comment below). Forget whether they don't press a button because they don't want to bother anyone.
Who is the target market for security vendors? Everyone who is currently a home security client, referrals, neighbors, direct marketing. It's great that everyone knows what PERS is. But providing this service should be in conjunction with assessment of need. Home care agencies, geriatric care managers, social workers, friends and family should place the acquisition of a PERS device into whole-person context -- including passive devices that alert whether you press a button or not -- and alert if the device is not worn. Security vendors should partner with professionals in the senior care world -- this could be good for their business and educate them on what services they should be able to provide. They should partner with call center providers where staff is as well trained as feasible.
PERS should not be compared with senior housing or elder home services. There is no such thing as a device that can cheaply replace the kinds of services offered in senior housing (when it is good) or in home care services (when they are good). Selling any variant of PERS as a cheap alternative to assisted living or nursing homes is simply capitalizing on the fear that both seniors and their family members have. Just as 'Assisted' Living doesn't always result in the expected assistance, selling PERS (no matter what type) as an alternative is misleading.
Selling fear and cost avoidance -- it works in the insurance industry and PERS vendors have been doing it for a while. But is it right?
Okay -- I've started the conversation. Please comment -- especially vendors who believe this (and the comment link to studies below) is inaccurate.