Healthcare and Tech Innovators Reassess Senior Market [Updated]

JAN 6

Product designers would be smart to heed the advice offered in a recent New York Times blog posting regarding lagging technology adoption among the elderly.  The post cites simplicity of use and the need for devices to be “fun” to ensure stickiness.  Much is at stake as multiple recent studies point to improved adoption as critical for changing the paradigm of care for Seniors as it exists today.  If tomorrow’s senior is indeed going to “age in place” in the home – while receiving appropriate care in a timely fashion from the ideal caregiver – technology will need to be a big component.

Traditional global brands like Bosch and Philips continue to innovate in telehealth and a number of large new entrants are making waves (e.g., AT&T’s ForHealth initiative and the 2009 joint venture between GE and Intel that officially launched this week).  In addition, a myriad of smaller companies are dotting the market landscape and striving to break from the pack (many of which can be seen at this week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, particularly at the Silvers Summit and the Digital Health Summit.  Among these are technologies like easy-to-use computers designed for seniors as well as home monitoring products that can detect changes in typical patterns of behavior to help predict deteriorating health.

While slow technology adoption by the elderly is undoubtedly a reason for the lagging uptake of innovative solutions enabling aging in place, it is far from the only culprit.  Despite studies showing a positive link between patient health and technology adoption by physicians, doctors remain resistant to new methods of patient care – with only 7% of office-based physicians regularly using email to communicate with patients in one recent study.  This result is undoubtedly linked to concerns about reimbursement, which is a trend affecting the entire technology landscape.  Why use a product or a service if there is no financial incentive tied to it?  In addition, the sales model is still clearly in flux.  A still small amount of senior-specific technology is available in retail outlets (Best Buy’s 2009 rollout of health technology to 40 of its 1,000+ stores is a nice start, but hardly overwhelming – though with many of these technologies requiring custom installation, it is not clear yet that traditional retail is a viable distribution model.

We will be exploring these issues and other themes in a TripleTree research report on the Seniors market to be published later in Q1.   Our assessment will cover our currently unsustainable long term care / nursing home models, innovations in chronic care monitoring and delivery, and developments in long term care insurance.

We’d like to know what you think. Thanks and have a great week!

UPDATE: Turns out that Best Buy has rolled out mHealth offerings to 500 stores, not 40.  Maybe we are starting to see the retail tipping point?  Thanks to mobihealthnews for the correction.

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Conor Green