Startups target home care for seniors

By Jack McCarthy
08:28 AM

With the elderly population projected to grow in the coming years and with many seniors looking to stay in their homes rather than move into nursing facilities, at-home healthcare devices are set to play an important role in serving that demand.

PricewaterhouseCoopers' Health Research Institute projects that at-home technology options will disrupt about $64 billion of traditional U.S. provider revenue in the next 20 years. Poised to meet this demand, new startups including Nortek, Onkol and Sensely are bringing new tools to market. 

Onkol, of Milwaukee, has developed a rectangular hub the size of a tissue box that can monitor patients' blood glucose levels or when they open their refrigerator. It also markets a wristband that can be pressed for help in an emergency.

Major providers like Kaiser Permanente, in California, and the National Health Service in the U.K. are using San Francisco-based Sensely, which offers a virtual nurse named Molly who can  connect patients with doctors from a mobile device. Molly asks how they are feeling and reminds them when it is time to take a health reading, Reuters reported.

Another startup based in San Francisco, Lively collects information from sensors and connects to a smart watch that tracks customers' activities and can contact emergency services. Reuters said that next year it will connect with medical devices, transmit data to doctors, and will support video teleconferences between patients and doctors.

Nortek, for its part, purchased a personal emergency response system called Libris and a healthcare platform from health technology company, Numera, for $12 million. Nortek also said some of its smart home customers like ADT Corp want to expand into health and wellness offerings.

"In the smart home and health space today you see a lot of single purpose solutions that don't offer a full connectivity platform, like a smart watch or pressure sensor in a bed," Mike O'Neal, Nortek Security and Control president, told Reuters. "We're creating that connectivity." 

One challenge will be making these devices easy to use by the seniors who will rely on them. An AARP study released in July found that Americans 50 years and older would like activity monitors like Fitbit and Jawbone to have more relevant sensors to monitor health conditions. In addition, 89 percent of those surveyed cited difficulties with set up.

"They (companies) have great technology," Jody Holtzman, senior vice president of thought leadership at AARP, told Reuters, "but when you can't open the package or you can't find directions that's a problem."