By: Michael Esquivel
A lot of the momentum around the mobile health (or mHealth) market is tied to the growing interest in products that enable the elderly to age in place. A key to allowing people to stay in their homes as they age is the ability to monitor their daily activity, as well as manage any chronic health problems that may exist.
Bandt notes that 73 million Americans will be over the age of 65 by the year 2030. Care for Americans over the age of 65 accounts for two-thirds of healthcare spending. Two-thirds of those healthcare dollars are spent on patients over the age of 75.
Mobile health technologies that enable aging in place fall into two general categories:
- Disease Management
- Activity Monitoring
There are already many monitoring and sensor products available to meet these needs from blood pressure monitors, to wearable fall sensors, to bathroom scales that talk to your smart phone. However, this stream of data from monitors has to be translated into something that is meaningful and actionable.
Once an interface is created, there remain several technology barriers that need to be overcome:
- Access is an issue, both geographic and cultural. Bandwidth isn’t always available or reliable; language and cultural issues can impede access for some elderly.
- Interoperability issues are a challenge since data from a variety of devices with different manufacturers needs to be integrated to be useful.
- Usability and comfort need to be addressed. Many monitors are wearable, so in addition to being easy to use, they also have to be comfortable and unobtrusive to wear.
- Power requirements need to be taken seriously. Many common mobile technologies consume too much energy; blue tooth is a perfect example. It would not be practical to rely on a series of sensors and monitors that need regular recharging.
Another barrier to adoption is the perception of intrusiveness. Bandt notes that video monitors are perceived as too intrusive, but sensors imbedded in furniture or bedroom slippers tend to be more widely accepted.
And there are financial challenges as well. Currently, there are no reimbursements available for mHealth products. That is likely to change, but Bandt estimates that won’t happen in a meaningful way for the next five years. And from an investor’s point of view, proven ROI is still lacking.
Despite those challenges, however, the promise of mHealth technology that allows people to age in place is compelling in terms of both maintaining quality of life and containing healthcare spending.