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Personal Emergency Response Systems aren’t personal about health
Watching PERS and consumer health tech industries is like watching parallel worlds. You have to notice. Although offerings are now mobile, they are not moving closer to consumer health tech. Wander from website to website of the leading players – Philips, Tunstall, ADT, Lifestation, LifeAlert, and so on, in the self-described Medical Alarm industry, regardless of who the company is, services are described and compared in this chart by VRI in the context of the 'emergency' dimension of Personal Emergency Response System/Service. Okay, you’ve looked over the laundry list of companies in the VRI-crafted chart. Now add a few more mobile PERS offerings that aren’t on the chart – like Verizon Sure Response, Tunstall, GreatCall’s Five Star, MobileHelp, AT&T and Numera. Verizon’s site offers 'convenience calling' (that is, minutes that can be used for non-emergencies); Numera’s site mentions a future health aspect of its Libris offering; and AT&T’s site talks about Health. Otherwise, the emphasis is about averting or responding to an emergency.
Meanwhile, wander back over to the consumer health world. To say there is a frenzy of funding, hyper interest in consumer health tech, and inventions galore would hardly be hyperbolic. Watch this explosion of self-care apps, and devices that measure everything you may or may not want to have measured. Mired in confusing terminology and dominated by young companies filled with young guys designing 'cool stuff,' this new industry is barely aware of baby boomers, let alone seniors. From Scanadu to Qardio to Fitbit, the imagined customer is a smart phone user and pictured as young as the developers imagine. These happy but worried well are apparently eager to have data transmitted to somewhere, recorded, charted, and trended over time. The emphasis is on tracking, transmitting, and trending, even contributing personal health stats to a health care delivery organization’s set of big data.
What enterprises will cross this information gulf? The massive difference between the PERS industry use of data and the consumer health tech industry’s use of data has little to do with technology. On the PERS side, it appears to be all about protecting the revenue stream – which is certainly north of an annual $1.5 billion by now -- continuing to sell services WITHOUT leveraging data. This will persist as long as the referring doctor, the reseller, and the purchasing and wearing customer are complicit. Meanwhile, VC investment in consumer health tech has at least reached size of the PERS market’s understated annual revenue. Yet this phenomenal interest persists even as the recipients of all that money are not necessarily burdened by revenue or profit.
Is everyone waiting for Godot? Eventually the consumer health industry will discover that baby boomers are interested in their tech. So what the heck, maybe they will want to monitor the rate of uptake by relevant age segments and see boomers, even older ones, as a market. Meanwhile, some folks in the PERS industry see themselves as moving their market down age, into the 70’s, no doubt enabled by the availability of mobile PERS, and concern about chronic diseases. But other than GreatCall, it’s not clear how they are leveraging the market for PERS, smart phones and other so-described medical apps on smart phones. So who budges first? Will the PERS industry jump into consumer health tech? Will the consumer tech startups and investors notice the scale of the PERS opportunity?