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Wearable Technology's Impact on Home Health Care and Insurance
Wearable Tech World Feature Article
January 21, 2016
Wearable Technology's Impact on Home Health Care and Insurance
By Lindsey Patterson
Contributing Writer

There is a great deal of discussion about how different types of insurance -- everything from life-health to, surprisingly, property-casualty -- can benefit from wearables. Something that isn't getting as much buzz is wearables for the elderly. 

Boomer Bust

However, this may start changing fairly rapidly because the first of the baby boomers turned 65 in 2011. By 2050, aging boomers are expected to roughly double the number of Americans over aged 65 and account for approximately 20 percent of the American population. This will introduce significant challenges to our ability to cope with elder care as a nation. 

Balancing Conflicting Issues

The generation of Americans known as Baby Boomers has been setting trends their entire lives. They are used to getting things their way. They value their independence. As they age, there will be a significant amount of friction between their failing abilities, their desire for independence and the limited resources of the nation as a whole to accommodate them. Wearables have the potential to resolve this conflict by stretching limited resources, preserving the independence of aging Boomers and reducing their risks all at the same time.

The Business Use Case

It is easy to see why Boomers would want to use wearables to preserve their independence while staying safe. Having a device that will automatically alert a loved one or service to certain kinds of problems is minimally intrusive while protecting both the independence and safety of the user. It is less obvious why a business might adopt this technology for elder care. 

Currently, there are life and health insurance companies offering free wearables to their customers or a discount if consumers allows them to track their device. They hope to improve the quality of life of their customers while reducing their own costs. This model suggests one reason a home health care company might turn to wearables: To try to reduce expenses by finding a low cost, efficient means to monitor clients with limited staff.

However, stretching the available resources in order to meet demand might be another use case. As the Boomer population ages, elder care will be a growth industry. People can exist without business, but business cannot exist without people. Thus, the reality is that business often goes where demand takes it. As demand for this kind of service ratchets up, this sector will face challenges in trying to keep up with a dramatic growth in demand. It would hardly be the first time that a business turned to automation or technology in order to multiply the work capacity of a limited number of skilled staff members.

Real World Growth Limits

Businesses have to deal with real world growth limits. One of the most difficult limits to get around is the availability of qualified staff. It takes time to train and develop skilled, experienced staff. For some types of work, it is unwise to hire people without the requisite training and skill. For critical needs, such as health care, it is also unacceptable to simply not fill this need. When it goes unfilled because of lack of trained staff, problems get substantially worse. It is much better to try to augment the ability of your limited pool of skilled workers with a change in processes or new technology.

Disruptive Growth

This means that elder care is currently well positioned for disruptive growth of any technology or process that resolves the growing friction in this sector between need and available resources. Wearables are a good bet for a means to solve these issues. Wearables have the potential to help preserve independence and quality of life of our growing senior population, while also stretching limited resources in a critical market.

We cannot stop the tide of forces moving in this direction. The aging Boomer population will inevitably put unprecedented pressures on the elder care market. Home health care and insurance are both inextricably a part of that market. We may be facing a future where a limited number of nurses keep tabs on multiple seniors via wearable tech transmitting information to a central repository. She may check on them in person once a week, then be on call for issues that come up when pre-set alarms go off. Or she may call them, text them, or email them to provide limited support that only a person can still supply, augmented by technology.

Wearables are relatively new tech. We are still in the early stages of exploring their uses. Therefore, their potential is largely untapped and unmapped. Nonetheless, the insurance industry is already on the cutting edge of using wearables to enhance and transform their business model. The home health care industry, especially for independent minded elders, will likely follow not far behind. It is just the logical outcome of an intersection of demographics, human need and technological development.

Edited by Kyle Piscioniere

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