Connect America is purchasing Royal Philips’ Aging and Caregiving (ACG) line of business, including one of the top basic personal emergency response system (PERS) device providers, Lifeline. The acquisition is expected to close in a few weeks. Purchase terms, including staff, were not disclosed. The release by Connect America contains two unusual statements: both companies will remain competitive until the closing and that Philips will retain an equity stake in the company.
In the World of PERS and safety for older adults, this is big news. Our Readers will remember that Connect America, a medical alert company located in suburban Philadelphia, purchased Tunstall Americas in January 2019. Readers who follow the PERS taxonomy will recall that in 2011, Tunstall acquired AMAC, the third-largest PERS company, yet after multiple presidents and acquisitions, failed to make much of a dent in the competitive US and Canada markets. Connect America now has the major ‘name’ brand in PERS, other than Life Alert, famous for the ‘I’ve fallen and can’t get up’ TV commercials of yore and the real pioneer of the PERS pendant. Lifeline itself dates back to 1974 and was acquired by Philips in 2006. Of late, Philips has been on a divestiture tear, especially in North America.
The news hasn’t exactly made the headlines that it would have only a few years ago. One could say that the parade has passed traditional PERS pendants and home units. Replacing them are mobile and smartphones tied to assistance–GreatCall’s 5 Star services. There are bands and wristwatch forms, such as Buddi in the UK and UnaliWear’s Kanega, The latter haven’t yet the market penetration in the US but all three have in common one selling factor–none of them scream ‘old and frail at risk’ like a white pendant around the neck does. Classified now with PERS are more sophisticated but bulky devices mobile-based systems such as GreatCall’s Lively MobilePlus and Lively Wearable2, also listed as an AARP member benefit.
Connect America has been in business 35 years and has amassed a portfolio of PERS brands, traditional home and mobile devices including fall detection, plus 24/7 monitoring services. It claims to be the nation’s largest independent provider of medical alert systems under various brand names, with more than 1,000 healthcare network partners, and cumulatively over 1 million customers. Their other business is remote patient monitoring under the ConnectVitals brand and a cellular-connected device for medication management.
Another big win for Connect America is Lifeline’s agreement with AARP, marketed as part of their extensive member benefits, and other products that Philips has in this category.
There are millions who still use traditional and mobile PERS pendants, including in the huge market of assisted living, and a multiplicity of brands, which indicate the size of the market and its longevity. The stats haven’t changed much since this Editor was with QuietCare, attempting to make PERS obsolete back in the mid-oughts. According to Freeus, the average customer is a woman, 78 years old, and keeps it for about 39 months–a little over three years. Not all of them, nor their families, feel comfortable with a smartphone which can be hard to use, break, or simply not be handy in the bathroom or bedroom. So the market is still there, albeit not a headline-making one. Hat tip to a UK Reader who wishes to remain anonymous.
Thanks for this, really interesting insight into the American PERS market.
Picking up on your point about the parade passing the traditional solution. I would agree the market has shifted from PERS/telecare being the only solution to a plethora of solutions driven by customer demand and enabled by digital technology. Life critical alarm signalling using tones and phone lines was invented well before the internet and has continued to be used ever since.
I believe there will always be a place for reactive, crisis driven solutions but they should be a safety net to other preventative solutions. In Europe not only is there dedicated radio spectrum but a set of standards ensuring robustness and resilience purely for life critical alarm calls.
Does this mean that Philips is not content with its fall detection technology embedded in its pendants? Anecdotally there has been some evidence that this is not a satisfactory solution as too many false positive alarms are generated, so wearers are encouraged to use the pendant’s manual alarm button, something that is not always possible, resulting in a dangerous long-lie, which happened to my sister-in-law. It seems an odd move to sell off a line of products that one would expect to be more popular, not less, in an age of increased remote monitoring due to Covid-19?
Hi William–agreed. Philips had major troubles with the fall detection tech a few years back. (I covered in 2014 here: https://telecareaware.com/philips-lifeline-introduces-an-mpers-app/ and there are a series of articles from that time, just search on “fall detection”.) Presumably they fixed it to work better, but slump falls are troublesome with accelerometers. (Think of how your accelerometer on your smartphone doesn’t quite ‘get’ it when you want to change from portrait to landscape view.)
Add to that: It’s a mature (sic) and commoditized market in the US with waaaay too many competitors. It’s likely not all that profitable because of the monitoring part, and doesn’t fit with their healthcare innovation position in their personal health area. For instance, they sell a lot of Sonicare tooth care products both retail and professional lines through dentists–and all the follow-up is replacement brushes.
Note that I alluded to Philips’ ‘divestiture tear’ which has affected many of their operations in North America. In medical services, they seem to be doubling down on the medical device area by acquisitions like Capsule Technologies which integrates device data for acute care.
Hi Adrian–thanks for the compliment. I agree with you that senior safety should be multi-factor including emergency alerts that summon help *now*. (There’s also another whole market for emergency alerts, for those who live alone, travel in dangerous areas, or lone workers.)
But that white pendant or chunky box (Lively) round the neck is the equivalent of (automobile history reference coming) a car with a crank starter (Henry’s Model T) versus the Delco self-starter (thank you, Boss Kettering). Boomers and GenX-ers aren’t going to bear the stigma or the discomfort. If you make it look like an Apple Watch (Unaliwear’s approach), or Buddi’s wristband, then it is tolerable.