GreatCall CEO: Health Care System Stretched Thinner Than Ever Because of COVID-19

COVID-19 has opened the floodgates for adoption of telehealth services, creating newfound opportunities for technology companies looking to change the way health care is delivered by moving more care into the home and out of institutional settings.

One such company is GreatCall, acquired by electronics retail giant Best Buy (NYSE: BBY) for a whopping $800 million back in 2018. As part of its business, GreatCall develops and sells smartphones, medical alert devices and other products to help seniors age in place.

In light of COVID-19, GreatCall has seen demand for its services remain strong — and for good reason: They can help keep seniors out of higher modalities of care. All GreatCall devices have a one-touch button that connects customers to agents who can help with medical problems, some of which can be addressed telephonically using the company’s UrgentCare offering.

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While GreatCall declined to provide specific metrics on how COVID-19 has impacted business, CEO David Inns told Home Health Care News he’s seen a significant increase in inbound interest from payers, providers and senior living companies.

HHCN recently connected with Inns to discuss how the coronavirus is changing the senior care game and what his company is doing to help home-based care companies come out on top.

You can find that conversation below, edited for length and clarity.

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HHCN: Generally, how does GreatCall fit into the greater COVID-19 response plan?

Inns: One of the most vulnerable populations to the COVID-19 outbreak is the aging population. As such, it’s absolutely critical that people are educated on the steps they can take to help keep themselves and others safe and healthy during an unprecedented time.

GreatCall and Best Buy Health’s products and services offer connectivity to health care professionals and family members when it’s most needed.

For example, two of our most utilized services are 5Star Urgent Response, an emergency service exclusive to GreatCall products that will immediately connect device users to a highly-trained, certified IAED 5Star Agent in the event of an emergency, and UrgentCare, connecting users to registered nurses 24/7.

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In a time when doctor’s offices and 911 lines are busier than ever, Best Buy Health is working to keep older adults informed, safe, healthy and connected. With family members no longer able to visit many seniors, the Link App is a key tool for caregivers to stay informed on the well-being of their loved ones.

We have also rapidly developed an alerting service for our senior housing clients that allows them to notify residents immediately if someone in the residence has been diagnosed with COVID-19 through their Lively Mobile device, so that they know to stay in their rooms.

Additionally, we have implemented an outbound calling program to check in and assess the well-being of residents or members of some of our health care and senior living clients. These calls help relieve the burden of social isolation while also allowing us to identify customers that need additional help.

How, if at all, has COVID-19 impacted GreatCall and the way the company does business?

In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, GreatCall and Best Buy Health have taken steps to ensure our customers are informed, taking necessary safety precautions and feeling connected during this difficult and uncertain time. Our 5Star, UrgentCare and team of customer care agents all continue to provide support. In addition to that, we’ve compiled educational resources on our website to get the information most relevant to older adults and family caregivers to them in one, accessible location.

GreatCall’s mission to provide older adults and family caregivers with the products, services and support needed to stay connected, safe and healthy is more vital than ever, and for that reason we are making necessary adjustments and increasing access to our emergency services to support our customers and their families.

Our company covers the home health and home care industry, as well as some hospital-at-home news. Can you talk about the ways in which GreatCall works with those types of providers or how those providers use GreatCall’s technologies?

Best Buy Health offers the Lively Home passive remote monitoring system, which leverages data and predictive analytics to keep older adults safe and healthy. Our passive remote monitoring system is unobtrusive, requires little to no active user engagement and offers invaluable data-driven insights on activities of daily living (ADLs) to caregivers.

These data-driven insights are based on patterns and behaviors gathered and analyzed by passive sensors to inform the role of the caregiver. For example, sensors installed under a mattress or the wall represent rich data sources that can identify sleeping and activity habits, and alert caregivers when activities stray from normal patterns.

These data-driven insights offer additional context to caregivers and help them scale care and reallocate time and resources as needed to efficiently care for a larger population of patients at once. By incorporating passive remote monitoring before an incident, it becomes a much less expensive intervention than installing these tools once an accident has already occurred.

How do you see opportunities for those relationships changing as a result of COVID-19?

The COVID-19 outbreak has stretched the health care system thinner than ever before. With such limited resources, more patients, providers and payers have turned to technology.

As part of Best Buy Health, we are now able to offer end-to-end solutions to help clients remotely monitor their patients, members or residents. We’re helping to address social isolation, to increase communication, and to keep family members connected and informed about a seniors’ well-being — even if they can’t visit them.

What people often forget is that these services are more than just technology. In fact, technology is just a small part of it. You need supply chain, expert setup, great customer service and support, monitoring agents and a commitment to a simple, well-thought-through customer experience.

Necessity has encouraged health care professionals to be more open to new tools, including passive remote monitoring systems and personal emergency response systems.

What COVID-19 has demonstrated is the importance of making the home the health care hub. Given the rapid increase in demand we are seeing during this crisis, we all expect to see the growth of virtual care services build during and after COVID-19.

Loneliness can be deadly. Can you talk about the importance of mitigating loneliness, as well as COVID-19, during this crisis?

Social isolation and loneliness among older adults are common and far-reaching issues that have been linked to serious health concerns including depression, cognitive decline and poor physical health.

A recent study found 52% of older adults age 65 and older experience feelings of loneliness a few times a year, and 21% reported feeling lonely every day. With evidence of social isolation and loneliness among older adults being as unhealthy as smoking 15 cigarettes per day, this is an epidemic among the growing U.S. aging population that cannot be overlooked.

During social-distancing and shelter-in-place orders, older adults can become particularly vulnerable to these issues. There are a number of ways older adults can prevent social isolation and loneliness. They include practicing “connected” social distancing with regular phone and video calls, keeping your mind engaged with brain-teasers and puzzles, and educating yourself of the symptoms associated with social isolation, loneliness and associated health risks.

What can home health and home care providers do to mitigate loneliness amid COVID-19? Some older people are scared to let anyone into their homes, including nurses or aides.

In 2018, Best Buy Health acquired remote monitoring company Critical Signal Technologies, which offers on-demand social work services. This provides a high-tech, high-touch approach to health care, telehealth solutions, support services, and loneliness/isolation outreach for older adults.

Even outside of this pandemic, older adults are often simply seeking connections. We have found that overall, easy-to-use technology can serve as a powerful solution for individuals who are unable to interact with others on a regular basis, acting as a gateway to connectivity.

For health care providers and social workers, that simple check in over the phone or video chat can be the turning point in mitigating loneliness. Be hyper-aware of the dangerous impacts of social isolation and conduct regular screenings accordingly. Use technology to your advantage and be patient.

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