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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?


PERS is approximately a $1B annual business operating on technology that is on par with my 1984 cordless home phone. Couple that to 70 million people over 65 by 2030 and approximately 3 million senior beds (IL, AL, SNF) and an overwhelming desire to "age in place" and somebody really needs to make a simple, technology play of HW and services. Auto fall has been the "big" feature that last few years. But sensors for activity, movement, time thresholds, heart rate, glucose, medication management could all make a parts of a real solution that the adult child of a senior would gladly buy. Target preventive and not after the hospital stay. IMO, the gorilla is milking the cash cow and not paying attention. Qualcomm, Verizon, ATT, Comcast, Apple, Google, Bosch, UHG, KP, BC or others could all make a great play.
By Benjamin Joy

If you know Lively, you'll probably not be surprised that we will be adding a PERS product to our sensor line-up... customers have been asking for it in droves and we are delivering it soon...

Lively will now be a suite of ADL sensors; PERS; social connectivity and platform for other biometric or living sensors... and avialable globally...

Too many companies want to own the customer/user to themselves. What is needed by all is a more collaborative approach. No one company is going to solve every user's needs. So finding ways of sharing interfaces and user data is needed. No more siloed towers where one company tries to own everything and there is plenty of the pie to go around.

In the companion robot we are building we are actively seeking partnerships with other vendors where we can work together to provide a win-win-win (customer-partner-us) solution.

Care to talk to us PERS vendors? How about you health wearable companies? How about you Lively?

Interested contact me at tandyt@hoaloharobotics.com

The word 'competitor' is often used when the market is small enough that each should see the other as possible co-opetition, finding ways to work together to provide a solution in circumstances where one's offering is not quite enough.

My current emergency phone is a vanilla cell phone from T-Mobile where I buy 30 minutes of time for $10, good for a year. (Best deal around).
What I would like is a minimum size cell phone to hang around my neck with three buttons, programmed to dial: 911, son, daughter with a message: my ID and that I need help, right now, repeating until answered or leaving a message.

That would be a better deal than a PERS with a subscription where the service dials someone else, or a phone which I have to start up, find the right name and then dial.


Gunther Steinberg

Portola Valley  CA

There are many good technologies and Apps available, voice, data, and video. all have their place, but only 15% of seniors have smart phones, and only a small percentage of those use the Smart part. Voice may be boring, but is the most effective way to reach this population proactively. Sometimes the simple approach is the best i.e. BON HealthWatch voice technology is designed for the end-user, an elderly person who uses a phone as a phone. it designed to call an individual up, and ask questions about their health and well-being. It's non-intusive, doesn't require hardware (but would augment it) that provides the missing link, Communication in-between doctor visits. It's effective, and efficient, but unlike PERS, it is a proactive or preventive support, that reinforces a care plan before something happens, so they reduce having the need to use their emergency button, which is also good technology.
Sometimes the simple approach is the best approach.

Anther great post...
I'm kind of a broken record on this, but re phones etc...Hope people recall that a large number of seniors have sensory impairment as well as motor difficulties. So cell phones etc.--if people are going to use them, the design needs to be user friendly--people need to be able to see things and use the buttons/screen--touch sensitivity fades. Instructions--make them in large print and in (at most) 6th grade level language. Cell phones--for hearing impairment (rate projected to increase exponentially as boomers age) it's hard to find a cell phone that works well although they are improving and there are all kinds of new apps. But a lot of older people don't know what apps, Bluetooth etc. are. These designers need to get some sense of health education and literacy. I mean, I am hearing impaired and I just came back from a staying in a hipster hotel where the TV closed captioning didn't work and you couldn't even figure out the uber hipster phone--even the volume (couldn’t hear the clerk) because there were no directions. Honestly, creators need to get out of their cubicles and work with the area agencies on aging, meals on wheels etc. to see what the real world is life for seniors!

Let's face it. The disconnect is not only the industry's fault. It is also because of a gap between the industry and the end user. Why? Because the end user is so new to these technologies, that they cannot communicate their needs... Solution? I might have half of one. I was born with cerebral palsy. I have a severe lack of hand coordination, which means that I have relied on typewriters, computers, and eventually tablet technology. I also have balance problems due to a fall and a broken leg 15 years ago that made my disability even worse. However, I always have been extremely curious and experimented a lot with mainstream technologies. I am willing to help. Actually, I have thought of starting a business aimed at helping seniors use technologies to remain active and independent for as long as possible... (Although I find the market difficult to define for the time being). But I also believe that someone like me could bridge that gap. I believe that their should be some kind of commity which would define priorities, decide what needs to be done and perhaps find some kind of grants to get the industries interested in this emerging market. Industries talk in dollar signe and it is not realistic to expect them to change. If there someone has any insight about if or how I can help bridge that gap, please, email me at theaof@me.com

Emergency medical alarm systems are very popular now especially with the growing number of senior citizens staying alone. When they stay alone it is just not security that matters but the medical necessities also matters. And in such a case emergency medical alarm systems are the only option in front of you. And the companies have made full advantage of this situation.

Unfortunately, the folks who benefit the most from Pers do not want to be spied on by their kids by more interactive products and are not interested in new tech devises. They usually are resistant to getting a Pers until they have already fallen at home and been left alone for some time.
Regardless, Medical alert systems are an old value that are gaining in popularity do to aging. Adding on to this service with additional tele-med products has yet to be proven in the market.
So far it's like adding a fifth wheel to an ambulance ... just not necessary!
Adding tele-med to Pers is a case of $$$s chasing a market and in some cases creating it.


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