GreatCall’s acquisition: a big vote for older adult-centered healthcare tech

This midweek’s Big News has been the acquisition of the mobile phone/PERS company GreatCall by Chicago private equity firm GTCR. Cost of the acquisition is not disclosed. GTCR stated that they expect to make capital investments to GreatCall to fund future acquisitions and internal growth. GreatCall has over 800,000 subscribers in the US, generates about $250 million in profitable revenue annually, and employs about 1,000 people mainly in the San Diego area and Nevada. According to press sources, senior management led by CEO David Inns will remain in place and run the company independently. 

Our US Readers know of GreatCall’s long-standing (since 2006), bullseye-targeted appeal to older adults who desire a simple mobile flip phone, the Jitterbug, but has moved along with the age group to a simple smartphone with built-in health and safety apps. Along the way, GreatCall also developed and integrated the 5Star mPERS services on those phones, served by their own 24/7 emergency call center and developed an mPERS with fall detection. Their own acquisitions included the remnants of the Lively telecare home monitoring system in 2015 [TTA 5 Dec 15], adding the Lively Wearable mPERS/fitness tracker to their line; and senior community telecare service Healthsense last December. The original Lively home system and safety watch are sold in the UK (website) but apparently not the Jitterbug. In the UK and EU, the Jitterbug line would be competitive with established providers such as Doro.

What’s different here? GTCR is not a flashy, Silicon Valley PE investing in hot, young startups or a traditional senior health investor like Ziegler. Its portfolio is diversified into distinctly non-cocktail-chatter companies in financial services and technology; technology, media and telecommunications (including an outdoor ad company!); and growth businesses. It has real money, investing over $12 billion in 200 companies since 1980, and strategically prefers leadership companies. Their healthcare businesses have primarily been in life sciences, specialty pharma, dermatology, specialty services such as healthcare in correctional institutions, and device sterilization. Recent acquisitions have been San Diego-based XIFIN, a provider of cloud-based software to diagnostic service providers, RevSpring in billing and communications, and data analytics firm Cedar Gate Technologies. It also has partnered with newly formed medical device companies.

GreatCall crosses over into GTCR’s telecommunications sweet spot, but the older adult market and direct-to-consumer sell are different for them. Because it is unique in their portfolio, this Editor believes that GTCR sees ‘gold’ in the ‘silver’ market. Larry Fey, one of their managing directors, cited its growth and also GreatCall’s recent moves into senior communities with their products. GTCR also has expertise in the security alarm monitoring sector, which along with pharma clinical trials can bolster better utilization and broaden the utilization of GreatCall’s call centers.

However, this Editor would caution that the US senior community market has been having difficult times of late with overbuilding, declining occupancy, resident/labor turnover, and rising expenses–as well as recent coverage of security lapses and resident abuse. Telecare systems like Healthsense are major capital expenses, but the flip side is that communities can use technology to improve care, resident safety, and to differentiate themselves. To make the most of their Healthsense acquisition, GreatCall needs to bring innovation to the V1.0 monitoring/safety/care model that Healthsense is in its current state, and make the case for that innovation in cost/financials, usability and reliability. San Diego Union-Tribune, Mobihealthnews

Philips finally gets to GoSafe

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/img-gosafe-button.jpg” thumb_width=”160″ /]At long last… the Philips Lifeline GoSafe mobile PERS with fall detection and GPS, announced with fanfare at International CES 2013 and delayed well over 18 months from its original debut date, has quietly entered the market. The chunky and somewhat ‘cartoon alien’-ish pendant, while connected in-home to a conventional base station communicator, also uses GPS, ‘intelligent tracking’ to determine the user’s last known location, Wi-Fi, audio beaconing and voice response via cellular to alert for assistance. Pricing has settled at $149 for the device and a $54.95 monthly subscription. GoSafe joins the Philips Lifeline mPERS smartphone app introduced in August [TTA 28 Aug] and Lifeline with AutoAlert extensively debated here. No indication of distribution outside the US. PRNewswire release, Lifeline website, Mobihealthnews.

A five-point rebuttal to ‘Accelerometers, false positives/negatives and fall detection’

One of our most popular articles ever on TTA has been Tom Doris’ analysis of accelerometers in fall detection. His point of view is as a developer in digital health technology. For your consideration, we are posting this extended response from an executive experienced in deployment of both traditional PERS and now PERS with accelerometer-based fall detection in older adult populations.

Andy Schoonover is President of VRI, a leading provider of PERS, MPERS, and telehealth monitoring services founded in 1989. VRI currently actively monitors approximately 110,000 clients in the US–and a long-time TTA reader.

Tom Doris wrote a post on September 17th, laying out the problems with the use of accelerometers and fall detection devices especially in regards to PERS. After reading Tom’s post I felt compelled to respond with the following five points on why it’s important to continue to promote fall detection within PERS and MPERS.

1) In the 1 out of 100 case that my grandma falls and can’t physically press a button (sudden fainting due to hypoglycemia for example) would I prefer she have a regular PERS, which definitely won’t indicate a fall, or a PERS with fall detector which will more than likely indicate a fall? If it were my grandma I’d go with the “more than likely” option.

2) If my grandma had too many false positives then I’d ask her: you can use regular PERS with no fall detection or you can use PERS with fall detection where you will get called a couple more times per month. Which would you prefer? Hint: she’ll say fall detection. About 5 percent of our customers are annoyed by the false positives. (more…)

Philips Lifeline introduces a mPERS app

[grow_thumb image=”http://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/philips-lifeline-app.jpg” thumb_width=”120″ /]Philips Lifeline has debuted in the US an unbranded mPERS-like app which allows the user from a smartphone (iPhone/Android only) to access the Philips Lifeline call center. The app is free but the service to voice connect to their call center, according to their customer center, is a (bargain compared to standard PERS) $13.95. The phone’s GPS geo-locates the person in need. The fact that the introduction is in the ‘dog days of August’ is one indicator that they are readying well ahead of the late fall (autumn) bump in demand. (Both this Editor and Mobihealthnews see a back and fill for the much-touted GoSafe introduction which 18 months later is still not in market.)

But walk with your Editor through this scenario:

  • Smartphone-equipped older person takes a fall, has an accident or is a crime victim
  • Despite the fact that all smartphones have accelerometers, the app does not tie in to this data, (more…)