The xHealths prefer to ignore the elephant in the room. Every day I am treated to a plethora of updates (remember my 24 LinkedIn Groups) about this conference and that event for Health 451.0, Connected YouKnowWhat, Wireless WhatsUp, and Mobile Name-that-disease. The very word ‘health’ connotes opportunity (avoid 30-day hospital readmissions!), visions of reimbursement, and smiling clinicians on the far side of webcams. After all, shouldn’t the xHealths target employer-funded health insurance programs, monitoring ailments among employees and their kids’ childhood diseases? And doesn’t the ‘m’ in mHealth mean mobile, mean smart phone, always-on, on-the-go and on-the-run? Tweet your stats to your friends and get a friendly e-mail from your doctor’s iPad.
Aging patients just don’t make for snazzy demos, I guess. But the gleaming gold in them thar hills fades into the distance, along with the gleams in their eyes when the words ‘aging’ or ‘elderly’ or ‘old’ enter the discussion. Only 11 percent of the 65+ have smart phones (not even the wealthy love them, heads-up carriers!). I dunno, maybe that’s because they are irritatingly small-screened, small-keyed, flickering images requiring sure-handed swipes and pinches. So all of these fab health startups have to find relatively well constituents among the young and middle-aged smart app store junkies, pushing free and/or low cost apps. Maybe you’re walking around after leaving your Foursquare social living restaurant, but you ate too much, and you just forgot where your doctor was? Not to worry -- help is available from DocGPS, “no matter where you are…”
There are parallel market lines – who will have the guts to cross this chasm? Of course, we all know that the 65+ comprise the majority of chronic disease sufferers, with 2 or more diseases on average. But if you are waiting for the young-old to take their phones with them into their older age cohort range, and your investors are optimistic and have patience, life is good -- the patients will age unto you. No need to figure out how to push the telehealth in-home market past its tipping point. No need to find the doctors who serve an aging population -- gee, maybe they’re in Florida or Arizona? No need to invite those doctors into free pilots of all types of monitoring tech, including wander detection for those 400,000 Floridians living alone at home with dementia. Meanwhile, small companies that target the aging sector plod uphill with little online fanfare -- with an angel investor here, a grant there, an occasional VC -- who try to fill gaps with a bit of technology. These vendors and their investors worry about the elderly home alone, not the mobile always-on-the-phone. Doesn't this seem just like a chicken-egg problem – whoever crosses this chasm will push vendors to move from their xHealth side of the house to seeing the need on the other, helping to pave the path, perhaps, to the nirvana of Medicare reimbursement.