It’s fantastic when a popular technology from another industry is leveraged to solve a lingering problem in healthcare. Location-based Services (LBS) have been around in the telecom industry for a while now. These services use information about the location from cellular networks to enable enhanced experiences in navigation, shopping, or social gathering etc. Now consider the fact that 1 out of 8 people over 65 have Alzheimer’s disease. It causes a progressive deterioration in judgment, abstract thinking, sense of time/place and behavior; giving rise to a number of safety issues like wandering.
Alzheimer’s Association created Comfort Zone service to provide location updates for family members through a device worn or carried by the affected individual. The hardware form factor ranges from a regular smartphone to a device that can be carried in pocket or installed in car. Each comes with a monthly service plan that is priced according to the frequency of location updates. For example: the once-a-day location update plan (for sprint phone) costs $9.99/month vs. every-15-minute update (for a qualcomm pocket device) is $64.99/month. The underlying LBS platform technology is from Omnilink.
Some of these devices come integrated with Comfort Zone Check-in – a website where a family member or caregiver can log in online to setup geographical ‘zones’ and customize the recipients and frequency of email/text alerts if patient exits their zone. It’s a great example of how healthcare IT should be used: focused solution with integrated hardware, serving a specific need. The service is augmented by a couple of valuable additions. In case internet is not accessible, there is a 24-hour call center available. Monthly plans also include the MedicAlert® + Alzheimer’s Association’s Safe Return® program, which is a 24-hour nationwide emergency response service for missing Alzheimer’s patients.
Comfort Zone is not entirely unique though; there are other places to get such location-aware services for healthcare use. Project Lifesaver, LoJack SafetyNet provide the technology and the real-world service to locate missing individuals. Some low-end solutions are also available in popular electronics stores. But the online Check-in service is a differentiator for Comfort Zone. Keep in mind that Alzheimer’s is the only cause of death among the top 10 in the United States that cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed. For a concerned caregiver, it is paramount to have a continuous, remote ability to know if the patient is safe. It enables more than one person to lead a normal, independent lifestyle.
Disease organizations are great resources, no doubt. They provide reliable helplines, confidential counseling, referrals, education and support for the affected individuals. Services like Comfort Zone are a perfect example of the technology-based evolution of such organizations.