Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Aging In Place Wednesday

Each Wednesday, Laurie Orlov, tech industry veteran, writer, speaker, elder care advocate and Faculty Advisor for the Aging in Place Technology Department at Computer School for Seniors will be sharing her insightful research on how seniors can safely and successfully live independent lives in the home of their choice.


Frank Loves His Job
and Knows That It Matters

I was fortunate to have an experience this week listening on calls when the Philips Lifeline pendant was activated.


The calls have stayed with me -- and probably will continue to be on my mind for a long time. Philips executives Deb Citrin (Philips Healthcare), Sharon Thompson (Philips Medication Compliance, part of Lifeline), and Mark Ruthorford, Director of Marketing for Philips Lifeline, hosted an informative 3-hour visit to Philips' location in Framingham, MA where the call centers are located. We toured both call centers -- and I learned about the infrastructure behind the calls -- more than 8 million per year.

Philips execs told me that they have approximately 650,000 call center subscribers through 3000 partner programs -- like hospitals, Red Cross, VNA, or home care agencies -- that represent the 8 million calls received per year. (This doesn't count use of the unit through other call handling done by long-term care providers). Ironically, only 3% of the calls received are actual 'I've fallen and I can't get up" emergencies. The vast majority are 'test' calls to verify that the base unit and button device are working properly -- and many of those 'test' calls are just to make contact with a human being.

That's right. The average age of a Lifeline subscriber is 82, a woman living alone. The most likely reason she has the button is from a referral -- a discharge planner from a hospital or rehab facility, a geriatric care manager, a social worker -- or even an adult day center, funeral home, or estate planning provider. Typically an incident or circumstance triggers the need for the service -- not a personal decision in which an elderly person admits she is frail and needs it.

So I listened to calls picked up by Frank, a long-time Lifeline employee who has heard it all over his 11 years. He identifies the Lifeline service and then slowly and clearly asks "Are you all right?". He's heard the silence of someone crawling on the floor to reset the base unit: "I'm crawling as fast as I can" or "It's warm here in Wisconsin today." He knows to probe if the cleaning person answers, so that he can hear the voice of the subscriber. He knows that 'warm in Wisconsin' could mean the air conditioning has failed and help is needed. He knows when the answer is garbled that he has to restate the question to make sure they've heard and are really okay. And he ends the call with "Are you sure that you don't need anything else today?" I got the sense that Frank loves his job and knows that it matters.

Philips Healthcare is a business -- an $11 billion one with a CEO who sees the market opportunity in aging. They are inin multiple home health-related categories now, many from acquisition -- such as the Medication Dispensing service, home defibrillator, telehealth monitoring, and home testing devices and markets. The execs I spoke with see the target market as frail elderly and/or those suffering from chronic disease. The walls of the office buildings are filled with enlarged photographs of seniors -- mostly women -- with their pendants around their neck, sporting big smiles for the camera.

Alone and in your 80's with an emergency response device as a link to the outside. No wonder baby boomer women are so right to think ahead about shared housing to make them feel safe in their later years. Though I'm not sure if that will be an alternative to a response center staffed with guys like Frank.

For more information, visit Laurie at Place Technology Department at

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have been living with my dad for God knows how long. However, the past few years are a lot different. He is in his senior years already and I can say that he is prone to different kinds of emergency situations concerning his health. If I can only afford spending 50 dollars a month for a Lifeline pendant alert, I have long purchased one for him. I understand that it will help him a lot in just a press of a button and at the same time will give me peace of mind whenever I leave him alone. Good thing that my good officemate shared to me what he has given her mom. That is a Just5 phone.

The phone is a great device that works as a phone and also as a personal emergency response system. The good thing about it is that upon purchasing the phone, its PERS services are all free to be used by my dad. There is an emergency SOS button that can contact pre-programmed numbers when pressed. There is also an automatic alarm to catch attention of other people during emergency, automatic loudspeaker to help him talk to people over the phone even if it already fell and a lot more. With all these great features, you have to see them personally first before you believe that they are free.

My dad has been using this Just5 phone for half a year already. So far, he was helped by this phone for over five times already. The last thing that happened to him was a fall from the steps of a nearby park. The automatic alarm of this phone has saved him as several passersby have noticed his need of help easily. Though I don’t want my dad to be in any other emergency again, I am certain that as long as he has this phone with him, he will be safe from anything that can happen to him along the way.