Moving new technologies into the healthcare arena is all over the news as of late.  But when it comes to the older strata of the population, there are some additional considerations that come into play.  The concerns are not the ones I think most people conjure up, such as older folks’ reluctance to use new devices or their unfamiliarity with new apps.  Instead, the more daunting issues are limited financial means, personal isolation and limited access to transportation that keep older adults from accessing available healthcare resources in a consistent and proactive manner. In essence, the solutions need to focus on the person and day-to-day living. The underlying technology is only a means to an end, not the central player.

I was pleased to see some of the concerns address at the December 11 Pitch Event for the AARP Foundation Aging in Place $50K Challenge that was held in collaboration with Rock Health here in San Francisco. The focus of the AARP challenge was to encourage solutions that would increase healthcare access for low-income seniors, while at the same time reduce the unnecessary use of expensive healthcare services like the ER and also reduce hospital readmission rates. Three finalists from a pool of 100 applicants presented their proposals.

Dispatch Health provides on-demand urgent care.  The service sends a medical team to a patient’s home upon request to assist with medical issues that do not require attention in an emergency room setting.  The idea is to provide a high level of care while reducing unnecessary visits to the ER.

RoundTrip offers transportation for patients to get to and from medical appointments.  It allows on-line, text and phone bookings for car transport, as well as wheelchair and stretcher accommodations.  Its goal is to make this transport easy, always accessible and affordable for those of lower incomes.

Frnd Health has a network of on-demand nurses accessible through a mobile app that can be called upon to make house calls.  The aim of the service is to provide a bridge when regular care providers are unavailable or not easily accessible, and in this way, reduce hospital readmissions.

All of these services were interesting because they did not focus on the tech aspects of the services even if the underlying technology provided the basis to make their services efficient and accessible.  RoundTrip, especially, noted that it could be reached by an old-fashioned phone call (as well as by web and text), given that not everyone has access to a computer or smart phone.  The start-ups also caught my interest because they concentrated on the human aspects of care – social interactions with care teams, nurses and folks that could reach out to them in their homes.  The goal of all of the services described was to support the ability of older adults to remain where they reside and still receive needed and regular medical attention.

This was the second year of the AARP Foundation challenge.  The 2016 pitch winner CareAngel gave an update at this year’s event.  It provides a virtual nurse service that uses AI and voice recognition to reach out by phone each day and can check on patients, for example have they monitored their blood pressure, blood glucose levels and taken required medications.  Like the 2017 finalists, CareAngel also concentrates on the personal interactions, rather than the underlying technology.

The focus of a pitch competition with the person rather than technology as its center brought home a familiar but sometimes ignored piece of advice to start-ups.  Don’t simply start with a beloved technology and find a place for it.  Find a problem that matters, ask why it matters, who experiences it, and what does success look like – then look for solutions that get you there.

For a more thorough examination of this topic see the blog and report by Maeve Lyons.