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Enough already: NPR series adds remote monitoring sound but no light

Remote monitoring, a household product category?  Vendors in the remote monitoring world were no doubt thrilled when a few weeks ago we were treated to a wave of news stories -- the New York Times, CBS News, the Wall Street Journal and probably a number of other outlets that syndicated these. Clearly, free buzz is the best marketing any tech vendor can get -- and it is good to raise consumer awareness about a market category with fewer than 10,000 deployed units (a sum of the installed base as described to me by vendors). Generally these stories have been superficial -- hey, these are news stories, after all.  They briefly mentioned a randomly selected set of tech vendors, and perhaps whetted the appetite of consumers to consider their use. Never mind that there are numerous barriers and constraints that have, to date, limited adoption of remote home activity monitoring due to issues of pricing, reimbursement expectations, a well-established set of product capability and features, and a well-developed distribution model. 

Here comes NPR -- possibly the most misleading of the lot.  That's a tough claim to fame, but the two tech segments -- packaged up as "Aging at Home: Helping Seniors Stay Put" might better have been titled "Considering obscure and narrow-cast ways to help a few seniors stay put." Part 2 of the series introduced a new market entrant, AdaptiveHome, as a remote monitoring alternative. That's right, you Google them. We heard nothing about price, how the clients found them, who the competition is, with/without responder/home care services (what if the adult kids are on vacation?) - or what the degree of adoption in this market is today. What we did hear is about research projects at the MIT AgeLab -- love those folks, but you will not be shopping any time soon for that 'Smart Trash Can.'  And the other 'Wired Home segment' was about the use of ResCare, a $600-1000 per month home care agency service that includes a call center operator viewing video into the senior's home. Nice idea, but an attribute of home care agencies that is not yet a mainstream service -- in an industry that is not yet broadly deploying technology.  

Despite NPR -- the remote monitoring industry is moving forward. In recent weeks, a number of entrants have begun piloting new systems and new versions of offerings in the remote activity monitoring space and will soon be officially launching.  Last year, I counted up 4 notable industry players:  QuietCare, Healthsense, WellAWARE Systems, GrandCare Systems -- then added AFrameDigital (funded by NIH research grants) and BeClose (spun out of Alarm.com).  In recent months, GE's QuietCare unit was spun off into a new joint venture with Intel -- signalling opportunity ahead both for them and for startups that they may need in order to grow. WellAWARE received substantial investment and is now part of a large effectiveness study launched through Good Samaritans. And today, Healthsense received a new investment round led by Radius Ventures. 

Will remote monitoring become a direct-to-consumer product?  Maybe we'll see remote monitoring packages on store shelves in a few years -- but publicity is one thing, product knowledge is another. Just as the consumer may be suprised to learn about remote monitoring, the full senior value chain may also be in the process of discovering best -- or worst -- practice. As Liddy Manson, CEO of BeClose.com, told me recently: "It's early for direct-to-consumer sales of this category: more awareness must be created. If you want to move quickly, cultivating partners speeds up the process." So hopefully the NPR story will be helpful, along with the myriad of others, since this topic seems to have caught the is-there-an-echo-in-here imagination of the press.

And a slight digression -- for a reality and quite touching check-in on how seniors live now in the 6 settings of today (home, multi-generational family, home with home care, assisted living, nursing home) -- check out the Columbia Journalism School videos in this NY Times link.

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Hey Laurie,

Education has to start somewhere. Public recognition of a problem/issue comes first and then awareness of solutions. I see all the national media attention as a good thing to be encouraged. Sure, the media often sensationalizes or takes "factual short cuts". Why? Because of things called deadlines, space and time limits. Granted, that's no excuse to mislead or commit fraud but the media doesn't produce research papers, not even magazine show like 60 Minutes.

All this to say, every little bit helps. It's ultimately up to the consumers and the vendors serving clients to educate the public. I think NPR and all the rest have done a fine job and should be applauded to keep up the good work.

And of course you and everybody else is entitled to their opinion. At the end of the day, if something sounds too good to be true...........

Be well.


I agree with every single one of the above comments. While I was disappointed that NPR didn't reach a little farther - every news tidbit raises awareness and starts the topic rolling! I am really just excited that the media is FINALLY seeing this is a relevant and important story to share. I think the interested parties will do their homework, they'll start researching solutions and find us! It's the awareness that it even exists that is so important!!!!

Groucho Marx said "I don't care what they say about me as long as they spell my name right!".

Aging in place technology ("AIPT") is unheard of by the millions of baby boomers who could benefit the most from it.

So...maybe any news is good news!

On the other hand, a well organized national marketing education campaign by AIPT stakeholders (coupled with grass roots local marketing efforts, demo projects, new home model installations, affordable leasing-installation-servicing options, etc) would certainly be much more effective.

I'm trying to organize something like this here in St George, Utah with http://www.easierlivinghomes.net St George is a well known "retirement" community whose older residents could greatly benefit from AIPT.

We intend (1) to introduce AIPT to any existing homeowners who seek our help with aging-at-home modifications and (2) to offer a menu of Accessibility, Smart Home, and AIPT features and products to anyone who buys a foreclosed home purchased and "revitalized" by us.

At Seattle based My Virtual Companion TM we have taken the custom integrator approach with caregiver support or through caregivers. I spoke with Keith Seinfeld at KPLU / NPR Seattle about the custom integrator approach we use. The interview process is a big part before and after install. An example being; a stove top monitor WILL require some adjustment. I don’t see how a direct to consumer product would have a lot of features. Like a medicine reminder with a grandchild’s voice or a specific choice for a chime sound. Working with adult children and elder senior parents who want to age in place requires time and sensitivity it’s not for everyone. Discussion of sensor technology without the feeling of being spied upon, more talk about the health wellness aspect like a fridge monitor, Audio/Visual reminders and non-activity events. Custom integration allows us the opportunity to send only the important information and events. Does the elders My Circle of Care TM want an email each time that Fridge opens, maybe. But they certainly don’t want every hit on a motion sent to them. Does the Elder parent or adult want additional reminders to express there independence. The basic system has no fees but we offer optional service contracts that can include remote programming. Each case is different we have added new functions to keypads or touch screens from our office to enable a Caregiver check in button requested by a family who was unsure about whether the companion was getting to the home on time. We are very much a big part of making this technology work to help a person stay independent in there home or place as long as possible.

Alan Kutner 1425 471 3342

I wonder if anyone in the industry has really thought about why there's poor quality coverage of remote monitoring in the press. It's easy to blame the press for being lazy, but having sat on both sides (company marketing and editorial press) sides of the table, I'd say it's only partly the press. From the editorial side, I rarely see anything resembling what's needed: a concerted, consistent long term strategic marketing campaign (and tactics) for a product or service which include development of coherent, market relevant messaging about services and products. Laurie, I think you'd agree with me that press outreach for most companies is now largely confined to the issuance of press releases on PR Newswire and PR.com. It's certainly cheap and cheerful, but the outcome are stories which are all over the lot and are rehashes of what's been said before. The limited progress is truly painful to any 'grizzled veteran'.

The New York Times series was the best--I believe because they blog consistently on the topic so their writers are up to speed. WSJ didn't go far enough into investigating the pilots (13 people in the MetroPlus program!). CBS News skimmed a few products. Business Week--decent skim on mHealth. NPR--the one good segment/article was on the Universal Design home. The Part 2 Adaptive Home/MIT AgeLab article was a flashback to bad ol' 2006 (comments on Telecare Aware http://bit.ly/9Vewt2). The ResCare article, cameras, video monitoring--after I scraped myself off the ceiling--THAT would make me feel degraded, unless I were trying out for an adult version of "The Real World" and being paid well!

These companies (and there are only a few exceptions) need a marketing and outreach strategy not only for the press but for all their external communications. 'Field of Dreams' and 'better mousetrap' are clearly not working.

Steve posted this on Telecare Aware--here's the direct link to The Telegraph (UK). The story focuses on human interest, the caregivers, the local pilot (NHS Cornwall etc), and the larger national issue. Well done, it is Journalism 202.

Life-changing healthcare technology
The telehealth scheme has been life-changing for patients with chronic disorders, says Victoria Lambert.


Dear Laurie,
It is good to hear you rant. Yes we are frustrated. Yes we see the problems and we see the solutions and we want to be heard and have things move faster. I promise you, the revolution WILL be televised, just very slowly.

I worked in a recycling center in Ann Arbor during and after college. Folks drove up with their bottles in the trunk and we emptied it for them. (net energy use not quantified) Anyway, we DREAMED of curbside collection! Flash forward TWENTY YEARS or so and everyone was given a bin, and lo and behold! everyone filled it!

Yes I wanted it faster. Yes I know the answers to senior housing and care with dignity. It would have been better to get curbside before the landfills were overflowing, but there it is. It would be better to be moving faster, but we have to keep plugging and have patience. I first realized aging issues was a political movement when Betty Freidan was on book tour with THE FOUNTAIN of AGE in 1993. Am I frustrated? Yeah but, let me assure you: The REVOLUTION will be televised.

What I find often out of place in these consumer assessments is the overblown fear of Big Brother, as if some alien third party is forcing remote monitoring on people. If the alternative to remote monitoring is to have a person physically present, the camera can feel far less intrusive to some people. Properly deployed, it can be much cheaper way than paying an agency to confirm that someone is safe.

Most home care agencies - as you pointed out, Laurie - are not deploying technology except as back-end systems. This under-serves our clients and drives the cost of home care higher. Home care agencies could, and should, be integrating both remote monitoring and Wed 2.0 social media technologies into our service delivery and client service operations. For a white paper on currently available technologies that we use to serve clients today, see the following white paper:

Finally, as a disclaimer: although I had no advance knowledge of it and did nothing to bring it about (nor do I have a PR agency), NPR linked to my agency (www.CaringCompanion.Net) from the page supporting their first segment in this series, so I may be a bit biased in favor of them.

Jim, obviously you are in the far-seeing minority in home care, particularly in remote monitoring. I believe it would be very interesting for those in the field to know, from the home care side (affecting skilled nursing and personal care, which are different business models), *why* RPM is not being adopted. There's a lot of loose talk on this and it leaves one puzzled. Is it the care reimbursement model? Technophobia? Liability? A combination? Would appreciate your thoughts on this.

Some call them barrier free plans, universal design plans, lifestyle homes, wheelchair plans, aging in place home plans, or accessible home plans. Whatever you call it, they all fall under the same specifications set forth by the Center for Universal Design (CUD) at North Carolina State University. For questions or comments, contact us at


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