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Consider the focus for elder care technologies -- what should it be?

Just as interest is heating up, could adoption stall?  Turns out we’ve been in an innovators' bubble for Digital Health's Hype-and-Hope (HAH). Who knew there were 10 indicators of doom ahead? Stating the obvious, 'entrepreneurs are creating products patients don’t want to use' and there aren’t enough 'reimbursement incentives to drive providers to prescribe.'  And those creating wearable and mobile variants seem to have missed sight of the target market – that is, boomers and beyond. 

Now consider BCC Research's market sizing. The report, charmingly titled: "Spry Step in the Growth Rate of Elder Care Technologies," predicts market growth of a category that includes home telehealth and safety monitoring: "Global growth in elder care tech will grow from $4.4 billion in 2015 to $10.3 billion in 2020." While this 'elder care tech market' will be really big, aka spry, it’s not that spry right now. The bulk of its $10.3 billion projection for 2020 is in home telehealth – "monitoring of the patient’s physiological parameters and symptoms, as well as education about the patient’s condition." Its full potential will not be reached until past 2020, however, due to "growing physician acceptance, rising hospital and nursing home costs, and private and public health insurers’ efforts to control the costs of patient care." Totally agreed.

Now look at the category of safety tech. The smaller bucket of potential as BCC defines it is "assist-call devices, medication-management products, wander-management systems, fall-management devices, smart home systems and robotically enhanced mobility-assistance devices."  At $1.6 billion, according to BCC Research, nearly all of that category's current revenue must be in the 'assist-call devices' – which is known as the Personal Emergency Response Services (PERS) market, which will likely have reached that or an even higher level in the US. It may also include nurse call (pull cords) in nursing homes and assisted living communities.

BCC has the market sizing backwards.  Prerequisites and startup costs matter for market success. For the telehealth category, underway for a decade or more and as defined by BCC:  The doctor must prescribe; the patient must opt in; there must be equipment set up by a technician or nurse, either for monitoring vital signs or conducting a video visit; and the data must be integrated into an EHR repository. A person (nurse) must read a report looking for exceptions, or devices must be configured to alert exceptions that matter.  And for the PERS category, what's required? A contract, a device, a call center/responder hierarchy and voilà, up and running. Both mobile and standard PERS represents the reachable opportunity for future enhancement into predictive analytics, concierge services, smartphone apps, wander management, and other health improvement categories.  To me, fewer prerequisites sounds like more of a sure thing that will benefit older adults in the near term.


Spot on, Laurie! In designing UnaliWear's Kanega watch (an mPERS-plus medication reminders plus a guard against wandering), one of our goals is ensuring that we are designing for today's elderly.  Some market pundits get so distracted by the weight of the baby boomer generation - the oldest of whom are just now 69 (still very young!) - that they "abandon" today's elderly.  Since today's elderly includes my 82-year-old mom, the inspirational spark for the UnaliWear Kanega watch, we are focused on everything we can do to extend independence with dignity for millions of vulnerable elderly - TODAY.

Jean Anne Booth, CEO, UnaliWear