It is just over five years since Paul Gee, then CEO of the Telecare Services Association (TSA), flagged up to members in a prescient article that the time would come when it would be possible to buy a mobile telecare device in a supermarket [Telecare Soapbox: Tesco Telecare]. The question he posed was ‘How far away?’ Now we know. It took five years, but it arrives today. The telecare suppliers of the time did not respond to the wake-up call and they have now been overtaken by O2, the mobile arm of Telefónica in the UK. At the press conference in London yesterday O2 announced the next stage in the development of its Help at Hand service and several points struck this editor as particularly interesting:
- The service will now be available not just in O2 stores and online (they have trained their in-store experts – ‘O2 gurus’ – in how to talk people through it) but it will be available in 100 of Sainsbury’s supermarket in-store pharmacies.
- The service positioning is not older people oriented (see videos below). Although the majority of users will be older and probably in the early stages of developing dementia, the advertising is as likely to stress the benefits to carers as to the people themselves.
- In contrast to the initial we-are-going-to-start-this-service launch in March 2012 [O2 press release] the word ‘telecare’ has disappeared from the vocabulary. Nor is their any mention of telehealth or the 3millionlives (3ML) campaign despite the Help at Hand service falling under the O2 Health division. Instead, the service is described as ‘mobile care’.
- An app-based version is in the pipeline for people who already have a smartphone.
As well as the panic alarm function (underplayed as ‘support button’), the device capabilities include falls monitoring and geofencing, both of which trigger an automatic alert, receiving incoming texts and calls and, if pay as you go is purchased in addition, the user can make calls to up to four people from the speed dial buttons. Aware from the trials that the falls monitoring may generate false positive alarms for the call centre to deal with, O2 has decided that this is something they would rather live with in their operating costs than run the risk of missing falls.
O2 expects sales to come through online advertising and word of mouth, particularly through publicity via user and carer organisations and they have no plans at present for a TV campaign. However, as Sainsbury already knows through its loyalty card system which of their customers buy ready meals for one and who also have repeat prescriptions for certain conditions will it be long before some Help at Hand targeted advertising goes out to them?
O2 Help at Hand: Interviews with users (4 minutes)
[This video is no longer available on this site but may be findable via an internet search]
O2 Help at Hand: Helen’s Story (3 minutes)
David Brindle in The Guardian: Telecare could be the future of elderly care – if it works 5 March.
O2 flogs new GPS mobile-based telecare to sick and elderly The Register, 6 March.
O2′s Mobile Care in a Shop Near You Commentary from mHealth Insight, 7 March.