Excuses, Excuses: Overcoming Barriers to the Adoption of Aging-in-Place Technology

What's the holdup?

By Laurie Orlov

Warning: rant on!

Geriatric care managers are cautious and waiting: Last week I spoke about technology for aging in place to a room full of New England geriatric care managers (and a few home care agencies and senior housing folks as well). When I talked about technology, particularly remote monitoring, filling the gap in hours covered by home care aides, they enthusiastically nodded in agreement. But when I ask if any are using this technology, I heard about interest, curiosity, upcoming pilot programs (no vendors picked yet), and the like. Ditto with the home care agencies represented in the exhibit area. I didn't hear about confident or near-term likelihood of advocacy of a specific product.

Market awareness—is that the problem? Everywhere I go, I hear from industry insiders about the two key barriers to greater adoption of aging-in-place technology, depending on the product: (1) either lack of market awareness or (2) lack of a compelling business model (aka reimbursement). Let's take these one at a time. If you have the Google search box and live part of your life online (as do many baby boomers with aging parents), you can find all kinds of technology for nearly every purpose, including motion sensors, PERS devices, telehealth self-care devices, and so on. And senior housing organizations are aware of this technology—it's shown in every national AAHSA meeting Idea House. Finding is not the same as confidently being able to buy.

Business model (aka reimbursement)—is that the problem? The same families that shell out an average of $39,000 per year for assisted living buy the latest in TVs, computers/tablets, video-streaming subscriptions, data plans, and smart phones. Apparently these folks may not be ready to spend money on remote monitoring (or PERS or computers/software) for aging family members. But I seriously doubt that price is an obstacle to adoption in this market, and while we're standing around talking about it, prices are coming down anyway. Meanwhile, if by business model, we really mean Medicare reimbursement, can we just stop talking about that for a while? Medicare does not reimburse for a long list of devices (phone, TV, iPod, iPad, video games, etc.) that folks happily buy—even in a down economy.

Proof that products work—is that the problem? Who tests this stuff, anyway? As far as I can tell, no public Web site includes any actual, methodical testing for the purpose of verifying that the products in this category match the vendor description. So if you're a geriatric care manager or anyone else, how are you going to verify that you (a) picked a viable and potentially useful product or (b) that it works as described? Consumer Reports has refused to help as of 2008, unfortunately. Here's their excuse: "Consumer Reports has looked into these services in a preliminary way and found that testing them presents some logistical challenges. The service component—the response from the monitoring company to a signal—likely will vary widely based on location. Compliance with the instructions—for example, will the elderly person wear the pendant at all times?—also is a factor." Give me a break. Every transmitting consumer product that they test has the potential for its signal to "vary widely based on location" (see CRs' GPS testing results). And the user's ability to read instructions? This varies too!

Seniors themselves—are they the problem? Also in the is-there-an-echo category—still-sharp seniors don't want their privacy invaded, so they want nothing to do with remote monitoring devices in their home. And they turn off their cell phones when not in use, so they can't be called. And they don't wear their PERS devices, or they don't press the button because they don't want to bother anybody. To me, the description of these problems always sounds like the describing person is an adult child of a senior ("I can't tell my mother what to do!") They don't have the convincing sound of an experienced marketer who can describe a scenario in which someone sees themselves, a seasoned sales person with skill at overcoming objections, or a well-trained customer service rep who can explain at activation time how important it will be for the user to wear, press, call, respond, charge, keep powered on.

Your thoughts are most welcome! If not Consumer Reports, then who will verify that these products work? If today's market awareness is an issue, how best to overcome? If cost can be described in such a way that adult children and seniors are comfortable with, how/what is that description? If there is an effective marketing strategy that overcomes the perceived set of "seniors themselves" as barriers, what is it?

And if these aren't the barriers, what are the real barriers to aging-in-place technology adoption?

Rant off.

By Laurie Orlov
Aging in Place Technology Watch Blog

[First posted November 19, 2010, at Laurie's Aging in Place Technology Watch Web site.]

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