WHITE HOUSE: WE NEED MORE TECH TO HANDLE AGING IN AMERICA

By Issie Lapowsky July 12,2015 wired.com/business

Technology and the elderly go together like peas and guacamole, which is of course to say, they don’t go together at all. At least, that’s what you might think if you’ve ever tried to teach your mom or dad to use an iPhone.

So it’s no surprise that in its attempts to manage the ballooning aging population in America, the government hasn’t often relied on tech tools as its first line of defense. Now, that’s starting to change. This week, the White House is kicking off its Conference on Aging, the once-a-decade gathering that has given birth to landmark government programs like Medicare and Medicaid. On Tuesday, the White House Council of Advisors on Science and Technology will also meet to discuss the pressing issue of aging. In both cases, the government has invited technologists to the table, in hopes of finding new ways to scale senior care, without sacrificing on quality.

Seth Sternberg believes his company might be able to help.

Sternberg is the founder and CEO of Honor, an Andreessen Horowitz-backed start-up that helps seniors find home health aids through an online marketplace, and this week, Sternberg will be in D.C. presenting his thoughts on how technology can make it easier for people to age independently. The conversation coincides with Honor’s public launch in the Bay Area today, as well as the announcement that the company plans to donate $1 million in free care to seniors in 10 different cities.

Honor’s goal, says Sternberg, is to ensure that the next generation of aging Americans—a generation that, thanks to baby boomers, will be unprecedented in size—will be able to grow old without leaving their homes. To do that, Honor is trying to improve the quality of care in the industry by increasing care professionals’ wages and using technology to make the process of selecting and working with one of these caretakers as transparent as possible. Its mobile platform alerts family members when caretakers are coming and going, and the company has even redesigned the interface of the tablet they give to seniors that allows them to rate their care professionals on a daily basis.

“There’s been this problem where we have not as an industry invested in innovation around products for seniors, because people are scared that innovation comes from technology, and seniors and technology don’t mix,” Sternberg says. “I think there are a lot of misperceptions that can be cleared up. The market is massive and the opportunity is huge.”

The Lower Cost of Staying Home

The concept of using technology to help people age in place has become a focal point for the U.S. government, says Valerie Steinmetz, program director of the Center for Technology and Aging.

“I think the government is mirroring society in general,” Steinmetz says. After spending the last decade evangelizing the promise of technologies like telehealth for the aging demographic, Steinmetz says it’s only over the last year or so that she’s begun to see these technologies really talk off. “People are starting to believe in it and test it out for themselves, and the government is following right in line with these innovations.”

Of course, it also has a lot to do with cost. Evidence has been mounting for years that technology that allows people to age in place can actually have a substantial impact on reducing the cost of care for seniors, because it leads to more frequent monitoring. And, with the ever growing demand for a reduction in Medicare spending, that evidence is becoming more and more compelling to government agencies.

Just last month, the United States Senate Committee on Aging held a hearing in which a panel of researchers laid out all the ways that tech tools could help prevent things like falls, which disproportionately impact people over 75 and which cost billions of dollars to treat each year. Medicaid also recently reported the results of a year-long study that showed house calls can reduce the cost of care for frail seniors by an average of $3,070 per beneficiary. But Steinmetz says the real thought leader in this space has been the Veteran’s Administration, which has successfully run a telehealth program for veterans for more than a decade. One VA study showed that this technology has led to a 35 percent reduction in hospital readmission and a 59 percent reduction in “bed-days.”

“The government has looked at these programs and sees that they’ve been able to reduce costs, specifically in the medicare population, and says, ‘Let’s look at this further,’” Steinmetz says.

In-Home Care for All

She also sees an increasing willingness by the government to reimburse seniors for home care professionals, like the ones Honor provides, and that’s critical, says Sternberg. “If you look at the pricing structure for home care, by and large, it’s out of pocket, and the only way government helps is if you’re on Medicaid,” he says. “I’d really love to see us create a system through Medicare, where in-home care is proactively provided to people.”

Of course, technology alone can’t fix the massive shortage of home health aids that the country is already facing. This may be the biggest obstacle to Honor’s ability to scale, particularly given that the company only accepts about 5 percent of applicants for these jobs. But Sternberg is hoping that as both tech companies and the government continue to invest more in this space, jobs caring for seniors will become more desirable.

“These people are now considered unskilled labor, but they’re doing something critical for society,” Sternberg says. “We’re trying to make being a care professional a true career path for people.

“There’s been this problem where we have not as an industry invested in innovation around products for seniors, because people are scared that innovation comes from technology, and seniors and technology don’t mix,” Sternberg says. “I think there are a lot of misperceptions that can be cleared up. The market is massive and the opportunity is huge.”

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Posted on September 9, 2015, in CvilleVillage Blog and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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