Personal Emergency Response: Opportunity Knocks
by Security Electronics and Networks | @Articles Monitoring | April 21, 2013, 7:00am AEST
And something else many PERS solutions do is limit themselves to supporting the elderly in relatively fixed environments. A typical aged care monitoring solution is generally a number of wrist or necklace pendants that communicate by wireless (around the 900MHz range), with a controller in a central location in the home.
Depending on the system, the pendants can offer wearers local support at ranges of up to several hundred metres but comms is often limited to a call for help with no duplex voice and there’s no triangulation or GPS support that might allow responders to quickly find a person near but outside their home.
The PERS controller communicates with a monitoring facility via phone line that’s monitored by any one of a number of organisations like Home Alert, Doctor’s Safety Line, Priority Call, Safety Call, INS, Safety Link, Constant Companion and many more. While a small number of security monitoring stations get involved in this area, most providers specialise in personal emergency response. This is true of the UK and the USA, as well as Australia.
Something that’s interesting is the generally simple nature of these systems – they are old tech. Emergency calls are one-button DTMF at the pendant without a microphone in the pendant – comms is only by duplex telephone at the controller. There’s no video surveillance component and as mentioned earlier, there’s no ability to provide an exact location in the event of emergency outside the home.
Many systems have Tunstall falls sensor capability but that’s about the height of their sophistication in most cases. More expensive GPS-based solutions like Safe2Walk being marketed to Alzheimer’s patients but this seems an extremely small market, given the potential of GPS tracking to bring PERS to a wider customer base.
As part of their static nature, personal emergency response solutions are marketed to customers who don’t move much and while this market is growing, it’s relatively small when compared to the potential market, which could include children, sportspeople, active adults, workers in high risk industries and emergency workers of all types.
Of course, it’s unlikely healthcare monitoring solutions are going to appeal to kids, teenagers or active adults but it’s a fact that modern technology has reached a point where it facilitates a sort of global man-down/emergency call solution. And it’s also true that, given the dominance of healthcare providers in the personal emergency response market segment, monitoring companies need a new pitch if they are to establish themselves there.
Given quality security monitoring centres have a higher level of tech than healthcare monitoring companies, as well as more secure facilities, that meet industry standards, it’s hard not to feel this is an area our monitoring providers should have a larger slice of this growing market. Yet they don’t.
Taking all this into account, it was with interest I recently read the findings of a poll in the US in which security companies themselves pointed out that the big advantage they felt healthcare monitoring companies had over them in this market were databases of future system users. And it was healthcare’s strength in this area that led companies to argue that breaking into the PERS market will require lateral applications. Other respondents, however, disagreed, saying price and connections to healthcare providers were the real gateway.
“Much of that outdated PERS technology is still offered today to reach a very narrow market of infirmed that could be captured by professional health-care providers,” Lee Jones, owner of Support Services Group told SSN as part of the poll.
“We believe other markets for the short-range pendant could include younger stay-at-home families where accidents happen with children.”
According to Jones long-range cell pendants offer “threat mitigation for anyone of any age, including schoolchildren … away from their safe haven.”
Meanwhile Blane Comeaux, vice president of Acadian Monitoring Services said that in addition to traditional PERS clientele, his company caters to “an extremely vibrant group of PERS customers [who] are younger, very active, technology-savvy and carry a mobile PERS with a GPS.”
Something that was very interesting was that 45 per cent of poll respondents said their companies have added emergency trained operators or given other specialized training in a bid to gain PERS market share.
But conversely, potential customers said security companies needed to show flexibility on pricing if they hoped to compete with their home-health rivals.
“The only advantages that a security company has are the protocols and trained people for emergency contact,” one respondent said. “From a marketing standpoint, home health definitely has the edge. Security monitoring companies need to foster relationships with clinicians in specialties that generate PERS requirements (geriatrics, heart, oncology, etc.). Rather than allow home health to drive the competition, security needs to give up a little margin in exchange for much higher volume.
“First, security companies must learn to distinguish between PERS and conventional security systems. They must reconcile with and learn the value of month-to-month contracts versus the 3 or 5-year contracts with which they are familiar, and they must embrace the concept of recyclable equipment.”
PERS as a market seems to be one that offers plenty of opportunity for those monitoring companies with the right business model to compete with healthcare providers. At the same time, it seems there’s a wider market for PERS solutions based on the latest technology that no one is seriously targeting.