In 2006, the Jitterbug Flip Phone was lauded by the New York Times as one of the 10 best tech products of its time. And over the past 13 years, the company behind the Jitterbug, GreatCall, has expanded its product line into the senior market with additional phones, monitors, and other wearable technology.
Last year, GreatCall’s products and health and wellness services attracted the interest of Best Buy, which acquired the company for $800 million in an effort to reach the 50 million Americans over age 65. And while studies have indicated that some older Americans feel apprehension when interacting with technology due to a lack of clarity in instructions and support, Best Buy and GreatCall are banking on a slew of advanced services to keep older adults connected and safe.
Safe at home
Just 26% of internet users over the age of 65 said they feel confident in using electronic devices to handle online tasks, and almost 75% said they need help setting up their devices or figuring out how to use them, making it difficult to contemplate navigating sophisticated smartphones and apps in order to communicate with caregivers or healthcare professionals.
“While the number of older adults continues to escalate,” GreatCall vice president Bryan Fuhr told Home Health Care News, “the growth of professional caregivers remains stagnant, putting a strain on these caregivers and the aging population as a whole.”
Gerontologists believe technology will never entirely replace human involvement in senior care but can supplement it in many areas. Nearly 30% (about 14 million) of older people in the U.S. live alone, making it imperative to understand technology and how it can prolong their ability to remain in their homes.
After its initial iteration as a simple flip phone with oversized keys and dedicated buttons to speak to an operator or call 911, the newest Jitterbug Flip includes a bigger display, volume keys, flashlight and magnifier functions and a 2-megapixel camera.
The safety features have also been improved, with 24-hour access to agents who can help with urgent response situations, live calls to nurses and physicians and pharmacists, links to caregivers and relatives, and a personal operator to seek information and phone numbers.
The company later introduced a basic smartphone, the Jitterbug Smart2, which includes email and Internet access, with a Learning Center support page available with helpful photos and how-to videos to set up the device.
Hold the phone
But Best Buy is not just interested in phones. The goal is to become a one-stop company to provide service, products, and consultations, including Wellness Support from Mayo Clinic Care Guidance and UnitedHealthCare. Their Assured Living system interacts with a variety of devices and monitors and alerts family members of missed medications, falls, sleeping patterns, and any activity involving someone entering or leaving the home. Relatives out of town or out of state can talk through in-home speakers and even lock doors and shut off lights.
And while the medical alert device has been around since the 1970s, a more sophisticated PERS (personal emergency response systems) has been introduced by GreatCall and Best Buy. The Lively Mobile is equipped with both GPS and 4G LTE connectivity for extreme accuracy and response time, in addition to fall detection, speaker and microphone, waterproof casing, and unlimited access to GreatCall response centers.
Its sleek cousin, the Lively Wearable, connects to a smartphone and can be worn around the wrist or neck, with the same one-button push to reach an urgent response agent.
Any skepticism regarding a tech and electronics behemoth acquiring a health company has been dismissed, as analysts and industry experts have hailed the move as a savvy and strategic partnership. And with the ever-expanding and comprehensive market for in-home care for older Americans, Best Buy appears ready to move beyond TVs and speakers and video games as it surges into the health care market.