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The technology category that cannot be spoken aloud – serving older adults

Investors continue to salivate over health tech.  Rant on.   So the first half of 2018 saw $3.4 billion invested in Digital Health (which means whatever you want it to mean.) And even when investments or company roll-ups are specifically about the Medicare population – frothy writers cannot bring themselves to use clear wording. So Optum acquires DaVita Medical Group and Humana acquires Kindred Healthcare. Gee, what do they do? Yes that is vertical integration in the continuum of care – specifically for health services to elderly Medicare recipients.  And the $146 million that went into PointClickCare – that is software for long-term post-acute care (LTPAC), another euphemism for what it really is – care of the elderly, generally in nursing homes.

Some companies see money in aging – but others hide behind euphemisms.  Good for Gillette, which introduces a razor for caregivers to shave others – older family members or care recipients. They were quite specific about the use case. Best Buy makes its largest acquisition ever when it acquires GreatCall. Even Best Buy, which knows exactly what it acquired – a call center and services and products for older adults – referred to GreatCall as a leading 'connected health services provider.' Pretty wimpy. And sure enough, investment watchers expressed their ignorance about Best Buy’s history and label the purchase as creating 'a niche in the health space' or actually expressing doubts about the acquisition. And even Best Buy connects the acquisition to its interest in 'human needs' – true, but not clear.

Meanwhile, startups focused on aging are shunned by the VC community. Honor founder Seth Sternberg asserts that the 65+ market attracts only 0.7% of all venture capital. Even a writer trying to find examples of consumer-related initiatives ends up in Australia to hear that it just takes longer to create an eCommerce site that can serve older people. They must not have looked for FirstStreetOnline in the US.  So with 50 million people aged 65+ now, a Longevity Economy worth $7.6 trillion, only 0.7% of venture money is allocated to serve them?  Really? Thankfully the big guns like Gillette, Amazon and Google see an opportunity and even an expansion, amazingly, of their business.     

Perhaps the Voice First market will change all that.  But don’t count on it.  A marketer of this tech told me recently that their traction and focus is and will be in 'healthcare' – not aging.  Okay, mull that over. Note that 40% of hospital patients are elderly – and care of older adults accounts for 34% of health spending, despite representing only 13% of the population. But to be fair, in the Voice First world, there is no elderly equivalent of KidsMD – though an entrepreneur could if they wanted to invent an Alexa skill called CaregiverMD. It could match up the usability of Marvee with the useful (but buried) content of WebMD or incorporate Voice First offerings of Mayo Clinic, Answers by Cigna, or connect to startups like LifePod.  We can certainly hope.  No doubt if more useful skills emerge to specifically help older adults, they will be categorized and described as health care, not caregiving, and certainly not for the elderly.  Rant off.

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Always enjoy your Andy Rooney like responses to the absurdities of tech’s awkward approach to addressing the needs of aging. A huge market attempting to be defined and conquered by those with no visceral concept of the needs. Rant on Laurie........