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University research programs -- help make commercialization reality
Cathedral builders still wanted. Nearly three years ago, in my naive tiptoeing into the tech market for aging in place, I wrote a dismayed blog post about how so many universities have age-related research programs that design and then evaluate efficacy of technology and older adults -- and then disappear when the students move on. Despite a then-slumping economy since October 2008 when that was written, there are still plenty of research programs that live on (see MIT AgeLab), studies have been done to prove efficacy and effectiveness of technologies to help people age in their own homes. So here's another research effort, this time through the University of Missouri and an associated independent living complex called Tiger Place. Nice work has been done to validate that passive sensor technology in conjunction with nurse care coordination can help keep at-risk seniors out of nursing homes (not unlike the Philadelphia PACE project with Healthsense). Intellectual property commercialization into products is not part of the Missouri project, however. In my conversation with lead researcher Marilyn Rantz, she noted her hope that prospective commercial vendors will come forth to license the AgingMO work for future products.
Companies are doing their own studies -- as it should be. The university studies noted in 2008 did accomplish a goal of creating media awareness -- in parallel with the growing maturity of companies entering the sensor-based home monitoring space. Consider the following (all dated 2010): a study sponsored by GE and the Army using QuietCare sensors; WellAWARE Systems, Philips Lifeline and Honeywell involved in a Good Samaritan study of wellness; AFrame Digital and the National Institute on Aging partnered in a study on monitoring effectiveness. What do each of these have in common with each other? All three are studying effectiveness of commercially available products. Presumably the gold standard end game for these studies of commercial products in helping to keep seniors well and out of nursing homes -- will be Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement.
What universities should do -- validate commercial products. The great benefit of research projects has been to help quantify the usefulness of a technology that can benefit seniors, enabling them to live where they want for as long as they want. What's not so fortunate is when the research happens, customized tech work is completed, and then...nothing. So here's my theory: for every single dollar of grant money raised going into the university's own research programs, researchers should seek/find (another) dollar to buy an in-market technology and use their labor and local influence to a) get it out into the market into someone's home, senior housing complex, or assisted living facility or b) help figure out what if any capabilities the product lacks or c) what implementation program may be needed to make it more effective and viable for potential adopters.
Assign the students to testing. And while researchers are at it, assign students to test in-market products, publish the results, and either enthusiastically endorse or debunk a technology. And educate vendors-to-be: please take on the task of explaining the path between research and ultimate commercialization -- who else will? Commercialization is not going to happen by wishing and hoping. The real seniors (85+) need technologies to help them stay at home and live safely now. Help accelerate access and grow the ability for them (or their families) to buy low-cost products -- a partnership between research and commercial vendors is a win all the way around.