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Pendent medical alerts evolve – and will disappear

Surprise (maybe) – Philips puts Lifeline business up for auction.  How do I know this? Not from any news article other than PERS Insider, a newly created newsletter for those who track the medical alert industry.  Probably given the Q1 profit drop, they had to do something about the steep revenue decline of their Personal Health businesses.  You may not remember that Philips acquired the Lifeline business in 2006 for $750 million.  What did they get for that investment? The leader in the “Medical Alert/Medical Alarm/PERS space.” You pick the term -- or let the search engine do it in order to show you each paid ad after paid ad.

What positive impact did this acquisition have on the space?  Not much. The original Lifeline business was a pioneer of this market segment, building up a business that included doctor-referral, a senior-aware trained call center and multiple channel partners, including the home security segment. Eventually the segment reached such a level of recognition that others began to jump into the market as well, including Philips. Was that a good thing?  One positive -- it validated the business strategies of competitors, including the two Stanford MBAs that bought VRI in 2007. Their goal was purportedly to take market share from Philips Lifeline.  Which they did. The result is VRIcares -- its emergency response, vitals monitoring, and medication management matching the Philips Lifeline trio of services.

Philips made some mistakes with Lifeline – creating technology openings. The original Lifeline was a pendant device connected to a box (Communicator) in the user’s home. Now called HomeSafe, the pendant-wearer could either use a landline phone connection or a cellular connection – but note the rapid transition to cell-phone only households. That includes older adults. Some say that landlines will be fully obsolete by 2025. Okay, so the medical alert business (theirs and others) focused initially on the in-home PERS customer, widely profiled by vendors as an 82-year-old woman living alone.They then persisted with a Medication dispensing device that by now has been eclipsed by other offerings, including pharmacy-connected MedMinder and Amazon-owned Pillpack.

Mobile and medications matter. Meanwhile, in 2010, MobileHelp launched a wireless/mobile pendant – one that could be used outside the home.  This was an incentive for Philips and others to attempt a mobile offering.  Now it was time to move outside the home and add fall detection -- Halo Monitoring launched the same year that Philips bought Lifeline, 2006. And so it went – by 2012 MobileHelp had acquired Halo Monitoring for its fall detection capability and that same year, Numera acquired Blue Libris’ fall detection – ultimately both acquired by Nortek.  Not to be outdone, in 2013 Philips launches its own mobile offering, GoSafe.  And seeing what was going on elsewhere, in 2016, the firm added fall detection to GoSafe, and GreatCall acquired fall detection from BioSensics.

Technology change has led to today’s pendent obsolescence.  Today, 30% of the PERS industry is mobile, validating the emergence of wearables other than pendants to take out and about. Is Philips throwing in the towel, now that Verizon, Freedom Guardian, UnaliWear, BellPal, Bay Alarm MedicalHandsFree HealthFallCall Lite (Apple) – all have caregiving smartwatches with watch faces (and there's even Trelawear's necklace) that are less obtrusive than the pendant? And Amazon has just announced CareHub, in which you can say "Alexa, Call for Help". Without a wearable and with its fits-and-starts history, Philips’ exit is no surprise.


Laurie, Another example of how succinctly you chronicle for us history of a technology in this industry.  Bravo, excellent synopsis!  Also, when you're in the mood, your rants are always welcome, too!


The PERS market will be overtaken by next generation monitoring systems, which use discreet motion sensors and artificial intelligence to learn individual behavior and activity patterns, sending notifications on issues such as falls directly to the family/caregiver’s phone. The senior does not need to wear anything nor push any buttons; such a system is much more reliable, unobtrusive and very easy to use. Independence for the Seniors, Peace of Mind for the Families. 


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