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Best Buy’s remote patient monitoring falls short, but the potential is there

An editorial by Jiang Li

Recently, Best Buy has made headlines with major business moves in the healthcare space, first highlighting its partnership with Assured Living, and now acquiring GreatCall for $800 million. Speculation around the company’s strategic opportunities in healthcare is generating a lot of positive attention for them. Some stories on Assured Living have gone as far as to say Best Buy is testing its offering of remote patient monitoring services. With the purchase of GreatCall, known for its line of consumer-facing health and wellness communications devices, flip phones and wearable personal emergency response services (PERS) devices, Best Buy is certainly putting together the pieces to serve the wellness and healthcare needs of the growing senior population. But breaking down what capabilities it has now and what has potential is important. Buzzwords like remote patient monitoring have begun to be thrown around too loosely.

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Best Buy’s partnership with Assured Living is an exciting development in safety monitoring for our senior population. However, defining this program and Best Buy’s current offerings as remote patient monitoring (RPM) is a misnomer. At this point, the program is offering an important, but basic level of monitoring over seniors in a cost-effective way. It’s providing a middle ground between expensive assisted living and seniors living alone with limited resources. To call it RPM would imply a “patient” is under the care of a healthcare professional, and “monitoring” involves the collection of healthcare data such as vitals – though activity can be a supplementary data point.

Think of Best Buy’s program as an ADT service for seniors that is helping to monitor falls, ensure activity in the household, and for other things important to a caregiver or loved one wanting to make sure an elderly person is generally OK. Again, this is important for senior care, but it is not RPM. Should Best Buy be moving in this direction in the future, the opportunity for quality health wearables is growing. And this is where the acquisition of GreatCall comes into play. It has been said that GreatCall’s next frontier is linking those wearable devices to healthcare providers. There is currently a big divide between consumer healthcare wearables and medical-grade wearables, the latter primarily being available through a medical provider or as an over-the-counter FDA-cleared medical device.

General health devices do a little more than track basic daily health activity. Studies are beginning to show they are mildly useful clinically, such as the recent Fitbit study on the wristband’s impact on cancer patients in clinical trials. With proper context, such as in this study, activity data can be helpful on a patient. Reports are also showing how Smartwatches are outpacing fitness trackers, as they are worn more regularly since they have more features, and therefore, may also gather some information useful to your doctor. After all, no device is valuable if it is sitting in the kitchen drawer.
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