Many products and services want to help mitigate aging issues. The great news is that I meet and hear new vendors tackling one or more opportunities emerging from our 'longevity revolution'. As I just heard AgeWave's Ken Dychtwald describe yesterday, we are in the midst of the first global societal experience in history of what it means when people live as long as they do today. And so it is a great experiment -- what is needed, what helps seniors and caregivers, what works and what doesn't, and as such, more firms, both large and small, will launch products and services.
But are they the right products and services? Yesterday at an event sponsored by the Philips Center for Health and Well-Being, one of the participants noted that for technology to be accepted in the home, it needs to match a senior's right of 'self-determination' -- not override that right because adult children are nervous about their well-being. So are fall-detection, sensors in the home, PERS devices, telehealth and biometric monitoring really technologies for self-determination? Probably not as they exist today.
We're stuck in a fear-based model. Today's tech products in the X-monitoring and safety space -- fill in your own X, including Philips, GE, Intel, Bosch as well as PERS, activity monitoring startups and stalwarts -- are fear-inspired. They target point problems that are disaster-avoidance, whether it is mismanagement of meds, falling at home, or avoiding re-hospitalization after rehab discharge. For the 'health' tech world, the person is a patient, for the activity and safety world, the person is at risk. The 'health' tech industry complicates purpose further by being mired in the Medicare/Medicaid reimbursement morass -- making it very difficult to think about individual self-determination in setting features, function, or price.
But tech adoption may depend on rethinking fear. I have published studies that noted how seniors appreciated standing on a weight scale and answering a few telehealth questions because they viewed it as contact with the outside world. Remember that 95% or more of the calls to the Philips Lifeline call center are not an emergency -- the caller is checking in to initiate a human contact. How difficult would it be for every vendor of a disaster-avoidance technology to position it within a larger service framework, providing or referring seniors to human contact? Facilitating or conducting free conference call conversations among subscribers? If reimbursed 'health' monitoring vendors, these become support groups for those with the same chronic disease. If activity or fall-related, add a small service fee to facilitate social calls. Consider fitting danger-avoidance technologies into a social -- or even entertaining -- framework. In the context of self-determination, vendors can help seniors move beyond danger-avoidance and out of isolation -- a first step towards self-determination.