An oft-cited survey by AARP found nearly 90 percent of seniors intended to continue living in their homes ... and more than 80 percent were confident in their ability to maintain their independence. That confidence, however, began to wane as people aged. Among those 70 and older, only 43 percent found it "very easy" to live independently and nearly 20 percent either found it difficult or impossible to do so without help.
Enter HoneyCo Homes.
The Nashville-based startup has developed a platform dubbed the 'Internet of Caring Things' (IoCT) used in combination with smart home technology to better enable seniors to age in place. The technology, which provides a non-invasive 'view' of the home, passively collects and analyzes data to determine deviations in patterns and then notifies caregivers of irregularities.
Zachary Watson, founder and CEO of HoneyCo Homes, said there are two looming concerns for America's aging population. "One of them is coordination and communication of affordable care. The other is what we're going to do with what some call the 'longevity bonus.'"
Watson believes a big part of the solution is to enable more seniors to age in place with assistance. Despite rapid innovations with smart home technology, he noted many of those products aren't being directed in a meaningful way to help care for older Americans.
He said technology, in combination with human interaction, had great potential to allow seniors to realize their desires of staying in their own homes longer. Watson noted HoneyCo's initial emphasis has been on working with the home care industry, now expanding to discharge planners and the post-acute care industry, as well.
How it Works
"We place sensors throughout the house very similar to an alarm system," Watson explained, adding most are easily installed with hook and loop fasteners. He added options include motion sensors and contact sensors such as a bed sensor or toilet flush sensor. A remote kill switch for the stove or smart locks on the front door can also be installed. What is not used is video. "There's no image capture at all," he stressed of respecting seniors' privacy.
The sensors capture data surrounding normal daily activity. "There's no behavioral change required," Watson said of the ease for residents, adding there are no wearables, buttons to push or devices to charge. Clients lease or buy the equipment in a basic package and pay a monthly fee for monitoring and support. Premium add-ons include the smart locks or stove kill switch, and packages are fully customizable.
When irregularities in patterns emerge, key contacts are alerted. Recently, a client fell in the bathroom. Because of the alert, Watson noted, "Mom didn't spend all day ... or multiple days ... on the floor because the caregiver had the information she needed."
Similarly, if the oven kill switch was selected as part of the service package, the appliance could be remotely turned off if a smoke detector activated or if the stove was accidentally left on while the resident was away. The alert could also be cleared without taking any action if leaving the stove on for hours was intentional. "The last thing we want to do is ruin Thanksgiving dinner," Watson said with a laugh.
"It's an early warning detection system, really," he continued. The overarching goal, he said, is for care constituents to have actionable information to make more informed decisions - whether that's hitting on the right level of assistive care in the home or seeing trends over time that indicate aging in place is no longer feasible.
"We're building a platform to coordinate care with better information. When everything starts to work together, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts."
The Industry Value Proposition
While the value of such information is clear for seniors and their loved ones, Watson said there is also a larger value proposition for the healthcare industry.
"Insurance agencies are interested in the wellness trends of their constituents," Watson pointed out. "The greatest predictor of a hospital readmission is a hospital admission ... so how can we intervene before an acute event?"
If, for example, a senior has a history of urinary tract infections or kidney disease and the number of toilet flushes decline over several days, that might be an early indicator for a nurse navigator or wellness coach to check in with the client.
Similarly, he said the sensors help home health agencies with consistency. "In-home care suffers from 60 percent turnover of caregivers each year so they're constantly training," Watson pointed out. "To date, the organizations have had very few options to address the quality and consistency of the care they're providing without having to add staff. The right solution is finding a scalable way to improve the care without having to spend more cost per hour."
If a patient is supposed to be turned over every two hours to prevent sores, the bed sensor technology automatically logs that action ... or lack thereof ... to alert the agency. "When you're presented this data, you can deliver higher quality care," he said of addressing problems quickly.
Watson, who relocated from Manhattan, said the choice to start HoneyCo in Nashville was very intentional. "I looked at 150 MSAs, and narrowed it down to six that I thought had the best ecosystem for our mission," he noted. After a due diligence trip to Middle Tennessee, he said he walked away believing there was "no better place to do a healthcare startup than in Nashville." In addition to the healthcare infrastructure, Watson said he believed the support system and collegial atmosphere would foster innovation and growth.
That belief seems to have been well placed. HoneyCo Homes launched their first product last November, beginning with two organizations. A year later, Watson said they are on an adoption path with a national organization and in the midst of expanding to Michigan and California. "The path forward is very bright," he concluded.