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Home health care check-up

The global pandemic and stay-at-home movement is generating interest in a market that was already on the rise


March 30, 2021
By Alanna Fairey
Image: Jackie Niam / iStock / Getty Images Plus

While the personal emergency response service (PERS) market has seen some growth in recent years, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated a need for seniors and their family caretakers to consider it as a health-care option.

Telus currently offers their LivingWell Companion to support aging Canadians across the country. According to Juggy Sihota, vice-president of consumer health, Telus, the wearable device comes with fall detection and GPS capabilities.

“If a patient has a fall, we will detect that they’ve fallen, get in contact immediately through our 24/7 live operators support, and we’ll be able to make sure that they get emergency services dispatched to wherever they are,” Sihota says. “Because we have GPS-enabled technology, patients can stay safe and independent for as long as they like.”

Sihota adds that the LivingWell Companion offers support in multiple different languages, which helps seniors who do not speak English as a first language.

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For its part, Toronto area-based GlobalTek Security has its own Life Guardian PERS technology, which also sends real-time notifications of potential emergencies to family members. Among the wearable pendant’s more notable features is its one-touch operation (that includes braille), fall detection alert, and waterproof technology. Additionally, the device is not hackable.

Aaron Kozlowski, managing partner at GlobalTek’s Life Guardian shares, “Only our monitoring centre can call you, and it’s on a protected phone number. This will ring your device directly. You can also quickly locate your pendant remotely if misplaced, using a single command.”

David Doyle, head of Philips Home Monitoring, Phillips Lifeline, shares that the company has three PERS solutions: HomeSafe, HomeSafe with AutoAlert and GoSafe, which are all wearable pendants.

Noting that there has been an increasing trend of people not having a landline — including seniors — Doyle says that the Philips devices are able to work without a landline communicator.

“We have a version of our service that works just fine if you don’t have a landline communicator — the base communicator is cellular,” Doyle explains. “It’s the same button that they were [using] but the call goes over the cellular network instead of the telephone network.”

A push for change

While the PERS market is not a new concept, the COVID-19 pandemic has given a push for more innovation and drive for change.

Parks Associates’ data shows steady patterns of demand for PERS solutions between 2019 and 2020. For instance, approximately 60 per cent of family caregivers rated a traditional PERS device as appealing in both years and approximately 55 per cent of caregivers found a smart watch with a panic button appealing in both years.

However, according to Jennifer Kent, vice-president, research, Parks Associates, the pandemic may cause seniors and their family caretakers to become more proactive, rather than reactive buyers.

“The unfortunate reality of the PERS market is that the overwhelming majority of customers acquire the solution only after a fall or other medical emergency has taken place,” Kent says. “The incredibly trying conditions for seniors and their caregivers over the past year may lead to more proactive planning and purchasing of assistive solutions.”

Doyle says that Philips Lifeline has seen a shift in the market since the beginning of the pandemic.

“People are more sensitized than ever to the need for their loved ones to remain safe and independent in their homes,” Doyle relates. “That’s always been the case, but I think COVID has accelerated that, which has been a market shift for us under the current circumstances and has led to more inquiries and demand for the service.”

Doyle also shares that Philips Lifeline has had to adapt in terms of their installation into the home and move to remote communication and installations.

Having launched the LivingWell Companion back in 2018, Sihota says that Telus customers had been looking for PERS solutions prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As people are getting older, they’re certainly using the health-care system more, and our seniors are requiring more health-care support as they’re getting older. While you might live longer, you’re not necessarily always living healthier and access to health-care support becomes more essential as you age,” Sihota explains. “In that regard, [Telus] took a

look at the way that our seniors are living and the fact that seniors want, for the most part, to live at home and independently for as long as they can.”

When the pandemic hit and seniors were named among the most vulnerable to the virus, Sihota says that Telus customers had driven considerable demand for digital health solutions.

“More and more seniors are wanting to live at home and independently with dignity and with grace and we have digital health-care solutions that can help them with that,” Sihota says.

“The pandemic intensified those demands because of things like social isolation, and the inability of people being able to get the type of support that they would normally have.”

GlobalTek’s managing partner Lee Melarangeli says that COVID-19 has not so much changed the way that they do business, as the company has always offered PERS solutions, however, the pandemic has made their services timely.

Melarangeli adds, “Without question, given the statistics, these COVID hotspots tend to be in retirement and long-term care facilities. Seniors on waiting lists are now opting to live at home longer, and some permanently, with the assistance of our devices and technologies.”

Bright future

With a population that is getting older, PERS solutions will continue to develop and serve a purpose in the health-care sector.

“The experience that COVID has highlighted for our seniors that if people have the option, you’re going to want to stay in your home, and longer even still as a result of what’s happened with COVID,” Sihota says. “We are going to drive a lot of innovation in this space, so that it makes it even more attractive and more interesting and more a part of your lifestyle to have this type of support that gives both caregiver and the seniors more peace of mind.”

Sihota says that Telus is working in partnership with government and health authorities across the country to help shape and form the roadmap on the services Telus currently offers.

With users expecting more innovation in the space, Doyle predicts that seniors will increasingly become comfortable using the evolving technology.

“Mobile PERS (MPERS) has a bright future,” Doyle says. “With the transition of networks to 4G and 5G, that’s going to enable greater technology, more efficient technology, longer battery life for that technology. That’s a trend that’s been underway for many years, and it’s accelerating right now and it will continue.”

Noting that there was a big move in telehealth options over the past year, Kent expects to see the trend of PERS providers expanding into telehealth to continue, as many seniors were forced to try telehealth visits for the first time out of necessity.

“Seniors continue to be a very high-need population from a medical perspective but underserved by technology providers who tend to focus on younger demographics,” Kent explains.

“PERS providers understand this segment of the population and can be the last-mile providers into the home for health-care providers and systems who have very little experience operating businesses outside of the hospital or doctor’s office.

“COVID-19 has forced health-care providers to develop new models of health-care [for] the home and I expect PERS providers to be part of that solution.”

Kozlowski and Melarangeli anticipate that PERS technology will continue to develop new innovations as well as improve in accuracy. “The accuracy of a fall alert is going to get better,” Kozlowski confirms.

Melarangeli further reiterates, “And while no PERS device is perfect, the technology is constantly improving. Thus, false positives will continue to decline, while the GPS accuracy for positioning will refine.”


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