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mHealth, Telehealth Providers Target Growing Senior Care Market

With Baby Boomers ready to retire and wishing to stay active at home, mHealth and telehealth providers are launching new tools and platforms. They're also eyeing the remote patient monitoring and chronic care markets.

Source: ThinkStock

By Eric Wicklund

- Telehealth and mHealth providers are adopting new platforms to meet the needs of a growing senior population and position themselves for the lucrative remote patient monitoring market.

With the Baby Boomer generation set to retire and wanting to stay active, the home health market is one of the fastest growing telehealth and mHealth segments. And new technology and interest from caregivers and healthcare providers are pushing vendors to get creative.

Two companies with strong backgrounds in the mobile personal emergency response services (mPERS) business offer examples of where the market is headed.

For MobileHelp, which has built its base in mPERS and home health monitoring platforms, the future lies not in the hardware, but in the software. The Boca Raton, Fla.-based company is developing an Android-based solution that can be installed in a personal computer, laptop or tablet, then integrated with other applications, including video chat, social media and games.

“The typical mPERS device just sits around waiting for an incident,” Rob Flippo, MobileHelp’s CEO, said during last month’s American Telemedicine Association conference in Orlando, where “aging in place” topics and technology were in high demand. “Our goal is to become more interactive, to the point that we can be a part of somebody’s life.”

READ MORE: Using mHealth to Help Seniors Age in Place

MobileHelp, which has already explored partnerships with health systems who see the platform as a remote monitoring tool, is now looking to combine the platform’s clinical and emergency response capabilities with more user-friendly social functions. The idea is to get seniors and their caregivers to think of the device as more of a wellness hub, rather than an emergency response tool.

“We’re changing the form factor,” Flippo says, to open up the platform’s possibilities.

The move positions MobileHelp to compete with the likes of Independa, which offers connected TVs and a tablet-based social/mHealth platform called Angela for the senior market, BeClose and GrandCare, as well as the larger players like Philips and Intel-GE Care Innovations.

San Diego-based GreatCall, which broke into the market with a line of mPERS devices and the Jitterbug cellphone line, is heading in a different direction – right into the senior’s home. Late last year the company acquired Healthsense, which develops passive sensors that monitor “activities of daily living” – sleep, activity, bathroom use, refrigerator use, etc. – and the predictive analytic software to track those ADLs and chart trends.

“It’s very much a natural extension for us,” says Jeff Pollizzotto, vice president of connected health, of the company’s move into the smart home environment. “Passive monitoring really allows us to get a continuous stream of data without the senior having to do anything.”

READ MORE: 9 Connected Health Recommendations to Help Seniors Aging in Place

Pollizzotto says passive monitoring gives GreatCall the opportunity to monitor activity throughout the home and throughout the day and night, charting baseline trends. When the sensors pick up something that isn’t part of the trend – less activity, more sleep, more or less flushes of the toilet – the system can alert caregivers to check in to make sure everything is OK.

“We’re looking to replace a high-cost episode of care with a low-cost intervention,” he says. “We’re being proactive rather than reactive.”

Both MobileHelp and GreatCall are shifting their business plans to target the healthcare industry’s move to value-based care. Flippo and Pollizzotti say they want their platforms to improve communication and collaboration between the senior and his or her care team, making the senior more comfortable and engaged while giving care managers the opportunity to intervene before a serious health crisis develops.

"The Affordable Care Act created a shift from ‘fee for service’ to ‘fee for value,’ incentivizing better care for lower cost,” GreatCall CEO David Inns said following the company’s Healthsense acquisition. “This is the foundation of the Triple Aim of healthcare: improving the patient experience, improving the outcome and reducing the cost. …. As the population ages, we can offer the kind of support that will make a difference both economically and socially."

As proof, he and Pollizzotto point to an independent study conducted last year by Fallon Health. In a 12-month study, the Worcester, Mass.-based health system found that its home healthcare program saved $687 per member per month, a 16 percent reduction, when using Healthsense remote monitoring, compared to a control group. Those savings translated to a 32 percent reduction in in-patient hospital costs, an almost 40 percent drop in emergency department costs and an almost 68 percent reduction in long-term care costs.

READ MORE: Studies: mHealth Sensors Help Seniors Avoid the Hospital

Pollizzotto says the acquisition “really opens up the managed care market for us,” and positions GreatCall to partner with health systems and hospitals looking to develop remote monitoring platforms for post6-discharge patients and those with chronic conditions.

At MobileHelp, Flippo sees his company’s platform developing into a networking hub for seniors and others who live at home and require care management. That means combining PERS features on a tablet or laptop with social functions – video chats with family and caregivers, Facebook, educational programs and games.

“At the heart it’s still a medical safety device,” he says, “but it doesn’t look like a medical alarm anymore.”

And that’s the key to acceptance by a senior community and anyone else requiring remote monitoring: Find a form factor that integrates with everyday life and becomes a part of daily living, rather than sitting around reminding people why they need help.

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