Finding Opportunities for Health Care Technology Integration
Technology is getting to the point where in-home technology can do things that help medical professionals monitor their patients remotely, long term.
In the AV and automation channels there are categories that are widely adopted, such as AV distribution, as well as ones that are less so, such as energy management. At least at present, home health care is a category that is in the latter group. But a partnership between CEDIA and manufacturers of these technologies is seeking to make it both better known and a successful profit center for integrators.
CEDIA’s director of technology, Dave Pedigo, has been personally embedded in home health care research for the past year. As he puts it, “The elevator to get on and understand the category would be to take away the technology for a second and look at sheer numbers: there are 100 million in the U.S. alone who are reaching retirement age. At the same time there’s a serious shortage of doctors: as many as 150,000 fewer than needed according to the Wall Street Journal.”
With the growth of an elderly population and decreasing number of medical professionals, the question becomes how that disparity is going to be handled. Pedigo explained that, “Technology is getting to the point where we can do things that help the medical professionals.” By which he means the ability to remotely monitor patients, long term.
The home health care market is very much in its infancy, according to Laura Mitchell, VP of marketing for GrandCare Systems. Although she warns that it’s not as undeveloped as some people might believe. “Maybe it’s better to say that it’s an adolescent with braces,” she joked, going on to assert that the category has been around for some while now and is seeing more vendors and more advanced technology.
Mitchell explained that when GrandCare was being developed in 2005 there were only three major players: GrandCare, QuietCare, which is now a part of GE, and Health Fronts. While educating the market is still ongoing, Mitchell said that it was more of an uphill back then, requiring her to get out in the field, telling people that the technology exists, and getting health-care professionals to accept it. “I went from place to place,” she said, “including long-term and in-home care providers, many of whom saw us as competition.”
Mitchell said that her mission was to teach health-care professionals that home health-care technologies are supplemental to the health-care workers, and not a replacement for the human touch. “A baby monitor is not a replacement for a mother,” Mitchell said, noting, “Our products enable a better standard of care and a bigger picture of wellness.” For example, a computer algorithm can see patterns of behavior and vital signs that a family member or in-home care provider might miss. That said, the system is simply reporting information. “The smartest part of the system is the caregiver who’s making assessments based on that information.” She concludes.
GrandCare Systems’ Laura Mitchell said that her mission has been to teach health-care professionals that home health-care technologies are supplemental to the health-care workers, and not a replacement for the human touch.
What it Means to Integrators
So why should integrators consider home health care? According to Mitchell, with an aging boom under way in the USA “This is something that has to happen, and must happen to assist Americans coping with the aging boom.”
According to Mitchell, there is a lot of education that needs to be done. As far as people outside the industry are concerned, home health care is synonymous with PERS, the Personal Injury Service, and better known by the iconic commercial tagline, “I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up!” Mitchell said. “One of the biggest hurdles is explaining that this category is more than that. With crisis management, you push a button and something happens. But that’s a reactive technology. Other solutions, such as what GrandCare focuses on are proactive, preventative solutions.”
It’s Mitchell’s assertion that prospective clients should not wait until an emergency to get a home health-care system in place. Rather, that they should be looked at in the context of ongoing wellness; using the feedback and data from the system for preventative care. “Think of these systems as being in place as ‘no news is good news’ systems,” she explained.
Technology continues to progress, with recent innovations including medication management and GPS-enabled reporting, for tracking when a subject has gone beyond their normal parameters.
“Some of the medication technology can dispense medication at the right time and provide health and dose advice,” Mitchell explained.”
Although she points out that without a throat camera, there is no verification that the meds have been swallowed. Even then, technology is being developed with tablets that can alert the system that they’ve been dissolved. While that remains a future technology, monitors that track blood pressure, bodyweight, movement around the house, including frequency of bathroom breaks, and sleep patterns exist now, and these provide care givers with a more complete picture of a subject’s well-being.
Pedigo suggested that there are dual issues in play that make home health care ideal for integrators. The first is that there is a large potential client base, which translates to lucrative recurring revenue opportunities. The other is the nature of the technology itself.
“I don’t think it can be cookie cutter, which makes it ideal for integrators; we’re used to installing motions and dry contacts, and we’re already installing other systems,” Pedigo noted.
So what’s CEDIA doing to help raise awareness of home health care with integrators? “Well, we’re doing a couple of things,” Pedigo replied. “We’ve formed the Home Health Advisory Group, which comprises manufacturers that are advising us on what we should be doing for the industry, and helping CEDIA develop training materials.”
GrandCare Systems Laura Mitchell says that one of the biggest hurdles to selling home health-care category, is explaining that it’s more than just, “I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up!” technology synonymous with with PERS, the Personal Injury Service.
A big part of CEDIA’s outreach is clarifying what home health care really means. “We’re taking this nebulous concept and honing it so that our members can sell it,” Pedigo explained.
At the moment, the home health-care field is wide open, yet with risks and unknowns that integrators will need to sort out.
“I think that at the moment there are few specific certifications involved, but I can foresee that changing,” Mitchell said. However, she pointed out that if integrators get involved with offering any healthcare devices, like blood pressure monitors, they have to be HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) compliant.
“GrandCare has a HIPAA compliance officer, and we are teaching a course on this on September 7, 2011, before CEDIA EXPO begins,” Mitchell noted. This introductory course is an eight-hour session that covers everything integrators need to do to receive HIPAA certification. HIPAA compliance means that vendors are unable to sell to a dealer unless that dealer has achieved certification.
Mitchell also noted that integrators need to address the category with their commercial insurance provider, and be prepared to educate them. “From an insurance point of view there really are no rules yet,” she said. “The insurance companies still view it as a crisis system, like fire alarms, even though it isn’t that at all.”
Integrators may need to explain to their insurance carriers that they aren’t selling lifesaving devices; they are selling wellness devices.
And the business model itself may be more “industrial” than retail. Rather than being a quickbuck business, it requires cultivating connections in the health-care field and a potentially large list of decision makers who need to agree to the installation, including health care professionals and family members.
“Our dealers have an average of three meetings with the principal decision makers before a sale is made,” Mitchell said. “It’s not a quick cold call.”
As a result, she strongly recommends partnering with a care provider that specializes in aging, whether in a long-term care or a home-care capacity. Those partners understand how to have this conversation with prospective clients without sounding like a door-to-door salesman. “Dealers should stick to what they’re best at, which is the installation” Mitchell said. “A person who is used to dealing with the elderly has the patience and empathy that will help build your credibility.”
Lee Distad (www.leedistad.com) is an Edmonton, Alberta-based writer.