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Taking Shape: The 2016 Market Overview of Technology for Aging in Place
Six years ago, you had to make the case for tech. Why was it useful to describe a market of technology that could help people live longer in their homes? It was necessary to justify this lens with demographic projections, costs of aging somewhere else, how many wanted to stay in their homes – and then, only then – start describing enabling technologies that could help facilitate their own or family member’s successful aging at home. The tech market was filled with passionate founders and niche, senior-focused products. That was then.
Now tech is assumed, but faces a skeptical market. Who would be surprised to know that there is an Electronic Goods Recycling Industry? It is a rare gadget or app that will have broad utility or staying power -- as the arrival and departure of myLively and other standalone offerings have demonstrated. It is not just consumers that are wary – the B2B market flow is both cumbersome and opaque. What happens to startups that pitch for pilots or the result of actual pilots to the experiences learned in full deployments? And because tech announcements are more frequent, many are distracted by the latest shiny new object – and around goes the cycle again.
Here are some 2016 thoughts about changes in the tech market for aging in place. Comments are welcome.
- Apps are dead, long live services. We are still downloading apps, but the ones with staying power are personal assistants which act as mini service providers – find a car, a ride, a restaurant, a hotel, an airplane. Maybe there will be greater use of behavior modification apps, which currently seem to come and go with the tides of marketing hype -- stop smoking, eat better, get moving, avoid too much sun, drink more water. Maybe your doctor will prescribe an app – many Silicon Valley folk believe (or hope) this will happen – but doctors aren’t convinced.
- Niche hardware will fade away -- long live software and training. In 2016, will senior-focused hardware survive accelerating technology change? Yes, if it mitigates a health-related condition (hearing or vision loss). Otherwise, we will see software that will make hardware platform choices irrelevant. Will senior phones survive or will users choose Easy Mode or custom configurations on a standard phone? Does the population aged 75+ need custom senior tablets (see grandPad, the departed RealPad or Claris Companion)? Or will service providers select standard software for a commercial device (see Breezie or Telikin)? Or maybe none of the above – instead, training seniors to learn how to use standard off-the-shelf products.
- Tech-enabled home care pressures traditional homecare providers. Can $80+ million of VC investment be wrong – or premature? 2015 saw investors swoon for tech-enabled home care providers (why, you may ask, because boomers are reaching age 70??), all of whose names begin with H. And AARP seized the day, and sized the caregiving innovation frontier at $279 billion (inclusive of those whose names begin with H.) Both of these together will push self-scrutiny in the home care agencies and franchises, comprised of others with names that begin with H, those that rely mostly on people to do background checking, staff to match need with worker, and managers track work. These other successful home care providers may wonder and fret -- is 2016 the year that they need to offer 'tech-enabled' care?
- Health tech replaces Digital Health, begins acknowledging aging. In a recent Mobihealth News webinar, founder Brian Dolan observed that Digital Health as a category was being replaced with the term Health Tech. This was wise, since his site is now owned by HIMSS Media. But it also reflects the disappearance of investment money for mobile health this-and-that in favor of institutional technology (and budgets) for hospital/health systems, medical practices, and related IT departments. (Note that HIMSS does have a Long-term Care Roundtable that focuses on IT for the post-acute care (perhaps increasingly tech-enabled) world of Medicare patients.)
- The PERS market remains strong – but changes slowly emerge. Already at least 20% of the total $1.5+ billion (and thirty-year-old) PERS market has become mobile-enabled. The pendant is increasingly likely to be disguised as a piece of jewelry, watch or wearable. Others are moving past standalone device offerings and linking the pendant to predictive analytics, telehealth, activity tracking and fall detection. With 47% of aged 75+ women living alone, resellers that serve them will be expected to offer a variety of PERS choices. Why change? Even with their flaws and limitations, smartphone and smart watch are threats to this market – and they are capable of offering the features and service connections that have made PERS compelling.