Digital Health for Seniors Remains A Neglected Market

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Digital Health is quickly becoming a beacon of investor interest as entrepreneurs work to convert the last, and largest, segment of our economy into the digital age. Funding is flooding in to support a broad array of different projects: cloud-based EHRs, population health analytics tools, as well as a variety of consumer-facing tools.

Much like their physician counterparts, consumers are only now considering what role, if any, computers will play in the way they manage their health care. To date, patient engagement has lumbered along on a trajectory similar to pre-Meaningful Use physician engagement. Those that are into technology have embraced the elements of digital health that were of interest to them, but the majority have stayed away.

The lack of wider patient engagement within digital health highlights an issue within the market. Startups within the digital health segment are typically targeting a younger computer-savy demographic, while health providers are serving a typically older demographic. There is a disconnect between the patients that entrepreneurs have in mind, and the patients that providers have in mind.  Ultimately, younger people who generally do not have complex health issues, are the target market of a plethora of new digital health solutions designed to make researching, coordinating, scheduling, and paying for healthcare easier.

In reality, the primary consumer of healthcare in the US are the elderly. Seniors led utilization rates across outpatient, emergency, and inpatient services in 2013, but are a demographic with far less experience or trust in computers or smartphones. A recent PEW research study found that 97 percent of adults age 18-29 use the internet, while only 57 percent of adults over 65 use it. The result is a healthcare market dominated by consumers that will not drive digital health innovation through market demand.

This trend, to largely ignore the needs of the core consumer within the healthcare marketplace – the elderly, in favor of a more tech-savy, younger demographic is evident across the digital health spectrum. One could make a compelling argument that consumer-oriented digital health investment dollars are not going toward products and services oriented toward the elderly at nearly the proportion they should if the sincere goal of digital health is to improve quality and reduce costs in healthcare.

In 2013, the six segments of digital health to lead in investments were: EHR systems ($245m), big data analytics ($161m), digital medical devices ($146m), wearables ($136M), population health management ($126M), and healthcare consumer engagement tools, which are tools designed to help consumers shop for insurance or services, ($119m).  It is likely that none of the consumer devices funded within this group would be heavily used by seniors.

Other heavily funded concepts were online scheduling and doctor shopping platforms like ZocDoc, along with a variety of medical apps designed to promote health, like Lumosity which delivers online games that improve cognition and memory, but asks that users create accounts, setup profiles, and remember passwords – logistical requirements which often alienate the population that would most benefit from its service.

What is missing in digital health is a serious investment in tools designed with simple user interfaces, and with the idea of keeping the elderly healthy, safe and out of the hospital as much as possible. The concept is known as “age in place” and it’s growing in popularity. While it is not the breakout sector of the digital health market, there is some exciting rumblings from a few newly-funded players in this space.

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eCaring announced this week that it has raised a $3.5 million Series A round to build out a clinical monitoring platform that delivers a daily journal designed to be filled in by seniors in the home. The platform asks questions about basic physical health, behavioral health, and daily living tasks. It then trends the data over time to monitor for concerning changes, and communicates any urgent information to a connected home health agency, or a family member. The user interface was designed with simplicity in mind so that users across a variety of computer literacies would be able to use the system.

Lively is building a home monitoring system through a series of small digital sensors. The sensors can be worn on the body, connected to a keychain, a pill bottle, or even the refrigerator, and will then track a person’s daily living activities for signs of abnormalities. If a person does not open their medication bottle for several days, or go in the kitchen, or if they fall, Lively will alert the appropriate family members.

It’s an invasive concept that likely won’t sit well with many, but Lively has come up with some traditional incentives to sweeten the pot. An illustrated activity journal is automatically are sent to family members who can then add notes of encouragement or pictures of grandchildren, and then the final product is printed out by Lively and mailed to the users home, closing the loop on the activity monitoring cycle. These cards are mailed out twice a month. The company has built its platform on a seed and Series A round cumulatively totaling $7.3 million.

For digital health entrepreneurs willing to focus on simple applications with straight-forward user interfaces, the market for seniors-focused digital health tools is a potentially profitable and neglected one. Analysts with Semico Research estimate the market will hit $30 billion by 2017.


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