Medical alert systems: A current PERSpective

Four executives in the PERS or mPERS space weigh in on the technology today
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Wednesday, September 6, 2017

YARMOUTH, Maine—The PERS space has been evolving much in the past several years, now with several conferences that discuss the topic, including the MAMA annual meeting, Affiliated Monitoring’s Catalyst and The PERS Summit. Security Systems News spoke with four executives in the PERS space to hear where the technology is today, and what the market will look like in the next several years.

“PERS is a fantastic solution, and certainly alarm dealers or any company that is in the home and offering solutions for the home should certainly be looking to offer PERS— whether that’s an in-home PERS device or whether that’s a mobile PERS device, it’s a great market to be in,” Christopher Baskin, CEO of American Two-Way, told Security Systems News. “Where we see solutions for seniors—really over the long haul—is the combination of connected home and connected health.”

Baskin gave the example that if a subscriber presses their PERS button and American Two-Way dispatches, they have the ability to unlock the front door so that it is not harmed by first responders.

American Two-Way is a company that handles a range of responsibilities in the PERS and mPERS space, including monitoring and fulfillment for a base of dealers, as well as manufacturing with the product SilverFox Link. The company also handles monitoring for the connected home, connected automotive, and connected health spaces.

Ronnie Adams, president and CEO of Wearable Health Solutions, pointed to connectivity as a current change in PERS technologies. “We feel that the market is definitely moving toward better connectivity, which means into the LTE space,” Adams said. An LTE connection will be able to transmit data in a stronger and faster way, leading to more telehealth capabilities, according to Adams.

Wearable Health Solutions, formerly Medical Alarm Concepts, has been in the space since 2008. The company first released a 2G mPERS device, followed by a 3G mPERS device released in March 2017.

Ryan Bangerter, business development director and sales and marketing director for Mytrex, also lauded the use of LTE, highlighting a few of the benefits. “The longevity of LTE is the most important,” he said.

“The second benefit to LTE is speed. We are able to do a lot more with LTE because of the speed of the data; calls will be answered much [more] quickly,” said Bangerter. “The other benefit—and it has to do with speed¬—is that the data that you can send over LTE is much less expensive and more effective, which means that you can add features to the overall product at a lower cost.”

Mytrex, founded in 1986, focuses on in-home PERS units, both with landline and cellular connections. “Our landline and our cellular units are selling at about a 50-50 rate right now,” Bangerter said. Mytrex is rolling out its MXD-LTE unit in October 2017. This will be a lower cost cellular in-home unit that has an LTE connection, he said. “The sunset of 3G is real, and people are going to start realizing that next year.”

Baskin sees PERS evolving and being incorporated into telehealth. “We really feel at American Two-Way that PERS will soon be a line item … to a greater aging-in-place solution for the home,” he said. He pointed to the fact that PERS devices are beginning to be more connected to other home medical devices, such as blood pressure or glucose meters.

“As the technology changes, the demand is changing, and you have a couple things going on. Aging-in-place is a massive push for everybody across different markets and industries and PERS is going that way. There’s been a lot of talk about telehealth over the past five [to] 10 years,” Bangerter said.

Mytrex is developing myConnect, a combined PERS offering and telehealth hub. “It has Wi-Fi built into it, Bluetooth, BLE, voice recognition. … It’s a more expensive in-home cellular unit, with all of those features, but it does address the growing market of—and the growing demand for—a PERS/telehealth solution,” Bangerter said, adding that the myConnect system will utilize the cloud.

Anu Herranen, Nortek Security & Control director of marketing and branding, sees the cloud as a big opportunity for the PERS space. EverThere, the company’s cloud based platform incorporated with its PERS solutions, compiles health data from connected devices for caregivers to better understand a PERS user’s health and possibly take preventative measures based on trends.

Through Linear and Numera brands, Nortek has been active in the PERS market for decades, Herranen said. The company provides a range of solutions—both traditional stationary PERS and mPERS including Numera’s Libris.

“We acknowledge that the cloud integration is one of the key areas to focus on in the future,” Herranen said. “What does that mean for the end user? That’s just being able to access more information, being able to be more proactive, both for the actual user—being able to be more responsible of their own personal health—and then for the caregiver.”

Herranen expanded on what the types of data that cloud integration could help transmit. “It could be simple emergency related information, it could be fall related information, but more intelligent, meaning that we would always attach additional pieces of data into that specific event, like location or recent device activity,” she said.

Working with the cloud also helps Nortek Security & Control integrate with its monitoring partners, Herranen said.

Adams also mentioned the value cloud integration has with the ability to give an end user’s physician a collection of medical information from over a period of time.

Over the past several years, mobile PERS devices have had a bigger presence in the market and Wearable Health Solutions’ Adams predicts the market will shift more to mPERS solutions. “While there’s still a huge market for the [home-based] unit … I believe that it’s just a matter of time before it has to be more a mobile thing,” he said.

Bangerter sees mPERS’ presence in the market, but doesn’t think that in-home units will diminish. “There’s a lot of talk and buzz about cellular and mobile PERS—as there should be, because it's a growing market. But, there’s also still a very great, high demand for in-home cellular based units and in-home landline PERS units, and the peripherals that come with that like fall detection and smoke detectors and active monitoring,” said Bangerter.

Herranen sees the mobile PERS market growing faster than for traditional PERS, and doesn’t expect that to change, though there will still be a market for both solutions. “We feel that the most likely scenario will be that people start with mobile PERS when they are younger and still on the move a lot,” Herranen said. “But, eventually, they might actually move directly to the … stationary home-based PERS solutions.”

Home-based PERS come with some convenience factors, such as lighter wearables, Herranen said, which continue to promote stationary systems.

“While mobile PERS is certainly accelerating, we still see the vast majority of PERS users, desiring devices for inside their home,” American Two-Way’s Baskin said. “When you look at … the typical person that is using a PERS device, or that needs a PERS device, that person is generally with someone when they are not in the home.”

New features have been brought into mPERS devices such as fall detection, Herranen noted, which gives dealers more RMR opportunities and more benefits to end users. “There’s definitely still room for improvement in terms of accuracy [with fall detection],” Herranen said.

Fall detection has become a more integral part of business, Bangerter pointed out. “Five years ago, it was kind of ‘it’s good if you have it,’ but there weren’t any out that really were reliable. Now … you have to have fall detection, a fall detection pendent [or] device, to be a successful PERS company.”

The technology for fall detection has gotten better in recent years, Bangerter said, “but, at the end of the day, there’s no way to, 100 percent of the time, detect a fall.”

Fall detection is not the only technology being brought in. Adams added that there is additional functionality built into Wearable Health Solutions’ units that assists caregivers but doesn’t need interaction from the end user, such as fall detection, tracking and geofencing.

“What the new technology has done is it’s opened up the industry for us, so it’s not just for elderly people,” Adams said. Geofencing is a recent development in the mPERS space, Adams said, and it has opened up new markets, such as for people with Alzheimer’s, dementia or autism.

“It’s great for latchkey kids also,” Adams continued. “Latchkey kids come home from school, they come inside a predefined geofence, which is the perimeter of the house. When they get home, it sends a signal to the parents that the kids are home.”

Adding health tracking can open up the market for PERS and mPERS devices, outside of seniors, “for anyone who wants [to add] personal safety and wellness information in their life,” Herranen said.

Baskin also highlighted mPERS as a key technological growth over the past five years, and one that has a variety of uses including lone workers and children.

The PERS market has been rapidly changing over the last five years, according to Herranen. “People actually interested in personal safety devices, or devices providing them independence longer, are actually younger. So, that means that the average age of the traditional PERS system owner is nowadays younger than it was five years ago,” she said.

Several trends are driving the market, according to Herranen. “When more and more people are interested in PERS or mobile PERS … that also means that the importance of ease of use, and ease of installation and ease of integration grows,” she said. Another trend is toward understanding wellness, and being more proactive.

Connectivity is an important part of aging-in-place, according to Baskin. “For a senior, one of the important things is keeping them from being isolated,” he said. “A senior that is feeling lonely, isolated and depressed could be in just as much danger as a senior feeling chest pains.”

Currently for Nortek Security and Control, communication to caregivers comes in the form of notifications, but that could change in the future, according to Herranen. “Looking forward, we see an opportunity to increase that communications channel to be more encompassing … maybe even thinking of integrating a video [element].”

PERS technologies are being infused with more technology that could be a benefit in the future. Some people are using all of the technologies put into PERS devices and some are not, Adams noted. “As time goes on, more and more people will be utilizing these features and functions that we’re putting into these devices. So, we think it’s important to have those features and functions ready so when the population starts shifting, it’s there for them,” he said.

Bangerter said: “We’re overdesigning the base … of our devices right now for our future, to add future features very easily.”

Adams underlined the importance of simplicity in mPERS and PERS devices to better fit the senior market. “What we give them is a medical alert system … [that] just has one button, and that’s an emergency button,” he said.

“You’ve got a simple device for a user, and that’s all you want them to have—you just want them pushing a button in the event of an emergency. And you’ve got a more involved device that the loved ones can look at. It’s the same device, but they’re going to be looking at more involved data,” Adams said.

Personal emergency response systems should fit into every consumer’s life according to Bangerter, “Every person in the U.S.A. should have a mobile PERS at some point. And then, just the same, every person should have an in-home PERS solution.”

Companies in the security space will be well poised to take advantage of where the connected health market is headed, according to Baskin. “Alarm dealers that are already in the home, putting in security systems, … they are sitting in a position to be able to then also provide connected health. As these solutions become more robust, they will began to more and more require professional installation,” he said.