This was the first year that personal emergency response service (PERS) provider Philips Lifeline setup a booth at the massive Consumer Electronic Show, where it launched GoSafe, a cellular-enabled, mobile version of its popular Lifeline PERS service. For the past few years companies like MobileHelp, GreatCall, Verizon, AT&T, Lifecomm, SecuraTrac, Vesag and others have announced or commercially launched their own cellular-enabled mobile PERS offerings, but none can boast as large an existing user base as Philips Lifeline. The company says that over the years its services have helped more than 7 million people live independently in their own homes. Philips also told MobiHeathNews that some 100,000 Lifeline users have adopted the version of the service that offers AutoAlert fall detection.
GoSafe, a waterproof, cellular-enabled mPERS offering that includes voice-to-voice communications from the pendant will be available after March. (Correction: An earlier version of this incorrectly article stated "late March".) It is also the first product from Lifeline that extends its emergency response services beyond the home.
"It's actually designed for a very different audience," Sheree Ford, Director of Global Marketing and Communications at Philips Home Healthcare Solutions told MobiHealthNews during an interview on-site at CES. "Our other systems are really designed for the frail, stay at home, older adult. Generally, that group is either homebound, afraid to go out, or is always with another person when they do leave the house. [GoSafe] is for a very different type of user -- I don't want to say a 'younger user' because the average age difference may end up being just two years. It's for those that have a different social mindset: People who still consider themselves active but maybe have had a couple of falls and have begun thinking 'What am I going to do if I find myself in that situation when I'm at the park, at the supermarket, at my friend's house?' It's someone who is a little bit more socially active and maybe also someone who is looking to empower themselves to feel safer about going out because of this technology."
GoSafe is leveraging a number of technologies and features to help emergency responders and family members to find its users when they fall or hit the device's panic button. According to the company, seven locating technologies are used to synthesized the user's location, including: two-way voice communication right from the pendant, an in-home communicator, WiFi locating, A-GPS, intelligent bread crumbs, an audio beacon, and cell tower triangulation.
Philips partnered with Skyhook to power much of the location-sensing side of the service. Skyhook is a geo-location technology specialist that facilitates hundreds of millions of location requests daily across more than 100 million mobile devices. It's technology leverages a network of nearly 1 billion WiFi access points, and combines location from WiFi, cellular and GPS readings to determine an accurate location quickly.
Ford said that GoSafe's in-home communicator unit, which can use a plain old telephone service line for backhaul or connect to a cellular network, ensures that when the patient is at home and needs help the system finds them. Since many mPERS systems rely on the device finding a cell signal, some areas of the house -- like the basement -- may make mPERS services less effective than legacy home-based PERS offerings. Philips says the in-home communicator improves the location abilities of the service when the user is at home and it helps save battery life since the pendant only needs to connect to the hub when its at home, rather than the cell network.
While Philips Lifeline has long relied on healthcare channel partners to bring its PERS offerings to consumers, the presence at CES indicates a tweak to that strategy. Currently thousands of hospitals and some 65,000 healthcare professionals in the US suggest that patients consider Lifeline after a fall or concerns about disorientation. Ford said those partnerships are still very valuable moving forward, but they are likely to add direct-to-consumer channels, too.
The competition is ahead of Philips on this front: GreatCall, which is best known for its Jitterbug mobile phone service for seniors, already has its mobile PERS devices and service, 5Star Responder, for sale at Walmart and other stores.
The business model for GoSafe is also slightly different from other Lifeline offerings. The GoSafe pendant will not be rented by customers, it will be purchased outright, Ford said. While the pricepoint for GoSafe is still being finalized ahead of the late March launch, Ford said it will likely hover around $150 for the device and about $50 a month for the service. In an email to MobiHealthNews, a company spokesperson wrote that the device would actually cost around $200.
Richard Lobovsky, VP of Business Development at Lifecomm told MobiHealthNews in an email that his company's mPERS offering is also set to launch early this year -- but first through a beta program. The future of Lifecomm's mPERS offering has been up in the air following Verizon's acquisition of Lifecomm's parent company Hughes Telematics, and Lobovsky said that the two companies are only in the early stages of integration so how Verizon might integrate Lifecomm with its own mPERS solution, SureResponse is still unclear.
Lobovksy said that Lifecomm differentiates itself from the competition by offering a fall detection device that comes in three configurations: pendant, belt clip, and watch, rather than just in pendant form like Lifeline's GoSafe. Lifecomm also has a display on its device which provides visual indicators to users. Furthermore, Lifecomm is an activity tracker that counts steps taken and overall daily activity. Finally, Lifecomm points to the fact that it runs on Verizon Wireless' network as a competitive advantage vs. GoSafe, which runs on AT&T.