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Jitterbug J -- LiveNurse phone app tests the health care water

Jitterbug announced a new phone this past week -- the Jitterbug J -- that I find striking -- simply because of its newly announced LiveNurse capability, offered as an additional service. Base service rate plans have risen from $10/month to $14.99 (50 minutes).  The $147 phone (not cheap!) is Bluetooth compatible, sleeker looking, with a speaker for hands-free/headset use. But Jitterbug is trying to do more with more revenue opportunity.

jitterbug jWith a more stylish phone, SimpleText messaging and MyCalendar management (through the website), the phone adds features that may broaden Jitterbug's appeal to the younger end of the boomer/senior market.

The really interesting feature is a service. These can make seniors and their families feel and maybe even be safer. That's LiveNurse, which any Jitterbug customer can subscribe to for an additional $4/month, giving them access to a 24/7 registered nurse (English or Spanish) who can answer non-emergency questions. Or have this access as part of $9/month Jitterbug CompleteCare' which includes Jitterbug Roadside Assistance, handset replacement, and the Jitterbug LiveNurse.

LiveNurse is the breakthrough.  Health-related apps like The Pill Phone have sputtered, a good idea with its reminders and linked drug database, but the big carriers lost consumer market interest (if they ever had any).  OnTimeRx, a great app for medication reminders, now ported to BlackBerry, has yet to get the traction it deserves. So when the service provider (Great Call) offers the app -- a service -- and the phone together, that's good.

Services like this help combat isolation for the frail. We'll see how the LiveNurse advice service is actually used, but I hope the service can provide occasional reassurance to a senior alone in their home. And when I spoke with founder Arlene Harris, she noted that this was a peace of mind offering for families as well as seniors themselves. The service is activated through Jitterbug's (US-based) customer service reps, who place it in your phone list. The service can be activated on older Jitterbug models as well.

What's needed next? Jitterbug has no location services available yet, which would really strengthen the safety dimension of the product, but the company is no doubt working on them. They should add turn-by-turn direction services as well as ability to locate the person carrying the phone. Down the health-related path, I can imagine a medication reminder app, ideally partnered with a vendor like pharmacist-run OnTimeRx. And the Jitterbug website touts phone clarity but does not offer (or feature) amplification capability for hearing-impaired.

Phone services should remain useful as users age.  GreatCall execs know that cellular services must follow the user demographic. The Jitterbug J and new services will (with the firm's ubiquitous advertising) broaden its appeal -- which then needs to then be sustained over the long haul as users age. Maybe that will mean adding a few more (arggh) features down the road for the higher income and more sophisticated boomer customers. Maybe that will also mean inventing creative ways to keep their aging and frail customers whose income may not keep pace with need.




It is such a shame to charge for a service like this when almost every hospital in the country has a free nurse on call service that anyone can call 24 hours a day and talk with a live nurse. Many hospitals will actually let you talk with a doctor too. To charge for something that is already free seems to be taking advantage of seniors, again.

Laurie - Consumers are led to believe that phones can be low cost or free and that large buckets of minutes and other machine supported use based service justifies equally large monthly bills.  The fact is, those phones are paid for with the higher cost of monthly service during that 2 year contract commitment.  The bottom-line, many consumers experience higher costs over the 2 years paying for that phone and for minutes left unused.  

It's a tough balancing act - Jitterbug is a very custom phone and has special personalized services often supported by real people (not machines).  Simplifying an extremely complex technology like cellular takes substantial investment and real focus.  Our offering is based on that value.  Jitterbug isn't for everyone.  But, for the many loyal customers who have chosen to support us so we can support the way they want to be served, they continue to receive the unique value that Jitterbug offers and will enjoy the innovation that Jitterbug will bring to them in the future.  It's our mission.



Founder and Chairwoman of Jitterbug

CNet reviews  cell phone for 'grandma'.



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