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Digital health technology poised to help an aging population

Startups and established mHealth and health IT vendors showcase care coordination and telehealth apps, while speakers talk about tech tools for the elderly and mentally ill.

BOSTON -- More and more, the elderly want to age in their own homes, and digital health technology will enable many of them to do it.

"This convergence in the way we age with advances in health and in well-being is creating an unprecedented opportunity for us to disrupt aging, particularly in the area of health," said Jo Ann Jenkins, CEO at AARP.

"Technology is changing everything we do, from telemedicine to social media," Jenkins told a health-IT-savvy audience of more than 1,000 here at the Connected Health 2016 Symposium. "All of this is really transforming the way we are living. And it's time to disrupt the way we think about aging."

Improving home health with tech

The theme of the 13th annual conference sponsored by Boston-based Partners HealthCare Connected Health was "Digital Technology That Cares," and Jenkins said technology can help the elderly live better at home and even counter loneliness and isolation.

It's time to disrupt the way we think about aging.
Jo Ann JenkinsCEO, AARP

Among technologies helping people age at home while living better are sensors to alert family members when they are out of food, fall-detection monitors and social media to connect the elderly with their peers and loved ones, Jenkins told SearchHealthIT after her keynote.

Conference founder Joseph Kvedar, M.D., vice president for connected health at Partners, kicked off the two-day event by recalling the early days of telehealth in the mid-1990s, with clunky cameras and jarring video connections.

"It was kind of fun to be among the oddballs. We sometimes thought we were among the lunatic fringe. If you look at the technologies, it's a wonder we got anything done," Kvedar said. "Fast-forward.  Every day now, most of us video conference with colleagues, friends [and] loved ones using mobile devices."

"We have come a long way. Our industry itself is growing rapidly," he said, noting that in 2013, the market for mHealth or connected health was $2.4 billion, and it is now projected to grow to $21.5 billion by 2018.

In addition to Partners, New England's largest health system, nearly every big health network in the country routinely offers telehealth services, Kvedar said.

"This is mainstreaming," he said.

Kvedar, however, also offered a cautionary note, saying today's new remote health technologies still make up only a fraction of how healthcare is delivered.

Startups seek an audience

Connected Health 2016 itself featured more than 50 vendor exhibitors -- ranging from startups, such as coordinated care provider Twine Health Inc., to healthcare hardware and software industry giant Philips Healthcare.

The show's popular Innovators Challenge segment, in its sixth year, gave four minutes of sought-after stage time in the conference center's main hall to 10 finalists.

They included Care Angel, a personalized, artificial intelligence-based healthcare assistant app; and SilverCloud Health, a mental and behavioral health online platform.

Optimism and energy levels at the show were high, as was the enthusiasm for health IT innovation.

But Casper de Clercq, a healthcare investor and general partner at venture capital firm Norwest Venture Partners in Palo Alto, Calif., said chances of success for most startups in this space are slim; perhaps 80% of them will fail.

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