Digital health is not reaching most seniors.
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Sensor-based home monitoring for seniors – calibrating market progress in 2014
Sensor-based home monitoring is a maturing market. A long time ago (2008) when this website was first launched, the benefits and difficulties of getting home-monitoring technology deployed were discussed. Perhaps families were ignorant about the technology, didn’t want to interfere or could not tell their aging parents what to do. Many observed that lack of knowledge about home monitoring solutions was the number one problem. Or maybe the senior's privacy concern was the problem. Or maybe complexity of installation and the need for an installer was the problem? Searching the topic of 'home monitoring' on this site reveals a long list of companies launching, announcing, updating, partnering with providers, dealers, insurers -- as well as comments about barriers to adoption.
Surveys and surveys – were they encouraging? During that time and since – while home monitoring of frail seniors seems so sensible to so many -- there were also a few surveys along the way trying to validate whether seniors would tolerate them. First Clarity in 2007 -- seniors were willing to use home monitoring solutions, but they were not looking to buy. AARP Healthy@Home in 2008 – data collected in 2007, 56% were willing to use them, but only 36% were aware of any in the market. So on to AARP’s Healthy@Home 2.0 2011 – only 5% of senior responders (average age 74) admitted to actually using any home monitoring system in their home. Then the Linkage Technology Survey 2011 (70% of responders were over the age of 75) but which 2% admitted to using home monitoring.
Adoption was limited, but sensing opportunities, the tech vendors persisted. Despite the low adoption numbers in the few surveys available, many believed that aging at home was increasingly feasible exactly because of technologies like sensors for home monitoring. Because of their passion and commitment to the space, sensor home monitoring companies marched forward: see mentions of BeClose, Healthsense, Independa ,GrandCare, Care Innovations and then Lively through 2012 and 2013. Increasingly media-savvy, firms piqued interest in partnership and deployment announcements within and beyond the US. And within the US, health policy changes that penalized hospital re-admissions have spawned entrants with offerings that enable sensors to be placed all around – more in the bed, under the rug, in the wheelchair – trying to keep people out of hospitals – or to notice a likely fall out of a wheelchair. More will enter this space throughout 2014 and 2015 – spinning startups out of university research programs, from incubators, competitions and investors. Why? Because they can: sensor technology is cheaper, smaller and easier to configure than ever. And of course, also because media terminology is imprecise and irrational market sizing fuels exuberance. Today, integration with tablets is possible, even likely, and combination of sensors with mhealth/telehealth devices signal steps towards reimbursement -- Medicaid, Veterans Administration, and inevitably Medicare.
Boosting value for the person being monitored? Sensor-based remote monitoring of vulnerable seniors has long been a very good idea. That is clearest when it is viewed from the vantage point of caregivers – professionals or family. But in 2014, let us consider: is remote monitoring a product – or is it becoming a feature of a larger social wellness solution? For the 75+ age group – the Real Seniors, who may not have tablets or smart phones, some of the frailest may truly need remote monitoring. But moving forward, the sensible solution to their isolation and safety risk may be as much social as sensing. And we must ask, will remote monitoring sensors stay plugged in and useful unless they are a feature of a larger wellness and social offering?