PERS: Catching up and catching on

Renée Francoeur
Friday July 28, 2017
Written by
Personal Emergency Response Solutions (PERS) haven’t had the most glamourous or warmly received reputation. Just look at a recent episode of the popular Grace and Frankie comedy series on Netflix where the main characters are presented with wearable panic alert buttons by their children. Their reaction is explosively negative — one of the devices is smashed with a shoe.

Professionals in the PERS and personal safety industry, however, say there is work underway to change all that, including an erosion of the stereotype that PERS is just for seniors.

Personal safety and home safety are converging, says Anu Herranen, director of marketing at Nortek, and this brings plenty of potential for dealers and installers alike.

Cloud and other developments
PERS providers have “incorporated new technologies, such as GPS, fall detection sensors, and mobile apps, which have expanded PERS services from responding to emergency calls to proactively managing personal safety and emergency situations,” reported market research and consulting company Parks Associates in a recent article on digital health. “As a result, the market has expanded from fragile seniors who live alone to schoolchildren, boomers with fragile health conditions, night-shift employees, lone workers, and outdoorsy hikers.”

Moreover, the personal safety market opportunity is “much larger” than the traditional PERS market, the research firm contended.

A trend of “living independently” is the best way to describe what is about to shake up the PERS sector, according to Neil Jones, ADT’s national director of operations in Canada.

“Change is coming to this market segment as a whole... It’s not just about ‘I’ve fallen and I can’t get up,’” Jones says. “Things are moving towards allowing the now-grown children to monitor or manage what their parents are doing or not doing. Analytics [and] exception reporting is the future. For example, don’t tell me if Dad gets up by 9 a.m., tell me if he doesn’t.”

Similarly, the last few years have seen stationary, home-based systems shifting to more mobile solutions, says Herranen, which has been driven by a number of factors, including demand from younger generations who are interested in personal safety and health solutions, and the attraction of diverse options in the mobile offerings.

Fall detection is becoming more of a norm in PERS, whereas before it was a unique feature, Herranen notes. That in general has been a huge driver of change for PERS, she says, adding Nortek’s fall detection has been available ever since the mobile PERS was first revealed over three years ago.

“Now, with fall detection we’ve addressed the issue of false alarms in the way we use Cloud intelligence. We gather data from actual human falls and improve the intelligence of our algorithms continuously,” she says.

The Cloud service is also extra attractive to the tech-savvy generation stepping up as caregivers for the aging boomers, Herranen says.

“There is a peace of mind with mobile devices as safety is provided everywhere; it’s not just confined to the home. But we also understand now how important it is to the caregiver to be in the know and have access to that information all the time,” she explains. “And they can create specific notifications customized to their family with the Cloud service.”

A game-changing benefit with Cloud is the transition from “reactive” to “proactive” monitoring, Herranen continues, noting the competition is fiercer in mobile PERS, which she believes is growing at a much faster pace than traditional PERS.

It’s not going to be just the panic buttons or fall-down sensors for the near future of PERS, Jones believes — it’s going to be movement activity alerts, such as tracking when medicine cabinets or the fridge is opened.

“It’s time for PERS to catch up with the traditional security industry, because there are so many benefits and features that can come from tying the two together,” Jones says. “ADT is in process of investigating how the PERS industry will evolve in Canada... Looking at potential partners, etc.”

Not just for seniors
Mark Phillippi, director of station operations at SaskTel company SecurTek, agrees with Herranen and Jones that PERS has transformed from a medical monitoring focus to more “life solutions” honed. And this means the elderly aren’t the only ones PERS can target.

“People are looking to safeguard their employees — arming the lone worker with two-way voice capability devices. This is huge right now and legislation is pushing it,” Phillippi says. “This is big for the bush workers in oil and gas and even realtors who are going into houses alone.”

For SecurTek, its SoloProtect solution meets this demand. Though it was available in the U.S. for years, it was launched this past fall in Canada, pairing the ISO9001 device with SecurTek emergency communications and monitoring for a new level of worker safety.

“Large corporate companies are coming aboard for this,” Phillippi says. “They sign on for a trial then buy large amounts of units. It could be for a gas station down the street, utility workers on towers, guards working by themselves...”

The traditional radio communication is beginning to disappear and PERS can step into this space, according to Phillippi.

“SoloProtect can also handle the medical side of monitoring. It’s a space we’re just getting into but we definitely see it monitoring the health of an individual down the road as well as keeping them safe. This can be for an elderly person or a 10 year-old child. It doesn’t matter.”

Nortek is also “heavily investing” in collecting blood pressure, pulse, weight and other health data, Herranen says, as seen with its wireless Numera Libris with EverThere solution, which integrates health data, personal safety and emergency response with “proactive and socially engaging wellness services.”

 Additionally, digital health research by Parks Associates in 2016 shows that “23 per cent of chronic-care patients (U.S.) report it is very difficult for them to exercise regularly and 19 per cent struggle to maintain a prescribed diet.” Parks Associates notes that new smart health-care devices and apps, as well as remote monitoring solutions by caregivers, could help these patients stick to their health-care plans.

“The growing availability of virtual care options such as telephonic consultation and video chat has given some care services an on-demand aspect similar to Netflix, Uber, or GrubHub,” said Harry Wang, senior research director, Parks Associates. “This approach, which is supported by the development of smart home solutions, will provide real value to patients with chronic conditions and help improve outcomes by following care plans and interacting more frequently with their doctors.”

“As smart home adoption increases and consumers become more familiar with the capabilities of connected devices, use cases expand into health and wellness offerings,” added Brad Russell, a research analyst at Parks Associates. “Medical alerts and emergency response monitoring, daily activity monitoring, and remote video-based communication and caregiving are a few of the early health-related applications that have been integrated with smart home providers.”

Home automation, home security — it all has the potential to meet PERS on an interactive and interoperable level.

RMR
PERS value add-ons, such as the aforementioned Cloud analytics offering or specific health data tracking, are the secret ingredient to RMR streams, Phillippi says.

“Adding another device or another item we can monitor to an alarm system means huge uptake, I’m finding, whether it’s thrown in initially or later,” he says. “Even if it’s just another sensor — that’s RMR and that adds up pretty quick.”

RMR is key for mobile PERS’ additional services, Herranen remarks, mentioning how there are plenty of accessories in the ecosystem to increase the convenience of mobile PERS, such as small wearables to wear while the main device is charging.

“You can easily upsell these for additional RMR. Imagine adding on additional sensors throughout the home. It’s endless...”

An alarm or medical monitoring system was considered a luxury in the past, Phillippi says, but it’s becoming more mainstream now, thanks in part to the diversity of ways information is gathered and the varied purposes of that information.

“People are willing to pay a little extra now to ensure their life or their life solution is there, as it’s more ingrained in society,” Phillippi notes.

While the traditional PERS requires installation work (such as mounting door sensors), Nortek’s mobile offering is pre-configured, Herranen explains.

“This shifts the device immediately to the end user so you don’t have to roll a truck out there and it saves time,” she notes. “It’s important for our customers and our dealers to be aware of how seamless it is for them. Ease of use is very important and that is something that will only improve in the future.”

And as for the simplicity of these solutions posing a threat to the need for an installer’s expertise, Herranen says not to worry.

 “Sales can be driven by either the home or personal safety need but either way you still need someone to explain the benefits and walk you through the user experience. There is still an opportunity to meet with the customer this way and cross sell or upsell features to meet their unique needs.”

Mistakes happen when you have to learn a system on your own, Phillippi adds. Which is why it’s important for the dealers to get proper training so they in turn can train the end user.

The mindset is beginning to change, according to Jones, where dealers are selling to what customers’ specific needs and wants are compared to what a company itself is trying to sell.

“Offering an all-inclusive solution that gives the kids peace of mind so they know what’s going on in their parents’ house, I think you would see an increase in revenue for something like that,” Jones says.

“It’s not just about hitting the panic button when you fall in the bathtub anymore — it’s staying in your house longer and living with dignity and better suiting the market so a PERS user can have that is what we want.”

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