Google’s Nest is quietly making its way towards digital healthcare for the elderly
September 26, 2018 | by Anca Spanu

Google’s Nest is quietly making its way towards digital healthcare for the elderly

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Digitalizing the healthcare system is a golden opportunity for companies to make good money. Whether it means bringing AI solutions into hospitals, integrating them into private practice daily activities, or using intelligent devices and solutions to improve quality of life and care for patients everywhere, there is no doubt the future lies in digital.

New products from big players

Big companies have recognized the opportunity and engaged the healthcare market. Only in the past couple of months, Alphabet subsidiary Google revamped Google Fit before the expected launch of Pixel Watch; Google partnered with GN Hearing to produce a hearing aid integrated with Android; Apple unveiled Apple Watch Series 4, which can take ECGs; and Fitbit launched Sleep Score beta and a new enterprise health platform called Fitbit Care.

For Google, things don’t stop here. Another subsidiary, Nest, which was recently reintegrated back into the company, is interested in the healthcare market, too. Bought by Google for $3.2 billion in 2014, Nest functioned independently under Google-parent Alphabet, until February, when it rolled back into Google.

Google meant to better incorporate Nest’s smart home products, like its home security system and smart thermostat, with Google’s artificial intelligence software, including its smart assistant. In July, the division was moved onto the Google Home team, which is focused on smart speakers and other living room products.   

What seems to be Nest’s next move

According to data obtained by GeekWire, Nest is secretly orchestrating a move into digital healthcare. The plan started even before the acquisition, last summer, of Seattle-based startup Senosis Health.

Even though information leaked into the press, Nest did not comment about the deal. But since Senosis is a University of Washington spin-out that turns smartphones into health-tracking tools using their built-in sensors, the next move is only logical. Its products include HemaApp, which counts hemoglobin in your blood by using your phone’s camera, and SpiroSmart, which measures how well your lungs are functioning via the phone’s microphone.

Even though these smartphone related apps and features seem easier to use, one must keep in mind the older generations are not so connected to them, so fixed items in the home which could be helpful are equally promising.

The home is a place where people are more inclined to use digital health products, so the move Nest is planning could prove to be a very inspired one, since its portfolio already includes smart-home oriented products. Having products in one’s home which could help pinpoint health issues or assist the elderly seems out of this world, but the future might be nearer than we think.

Baby boomers are aging, clientele is growing

Since Nest is not disclosing anything about its projects, it is difficult to say which of the present ideas are going to be transformed into shipping products. But the company’s CTO, Yoky Matsuoka, will talk about the “challenges” of building tech that “seamlessly blends into the lives of elders” at the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing and Care conference next month, which seems to prove the company is really interested in selling to the elderly in the future.

This elder care market is huge and will continue to increase even more in the next 20 years because there are simply less people to assist baby boomers as they age and need more support. Not everybody has adult children who can take care of them, so, for many, assisted living becomes the only option.

Assisted living versus independent aging, with AI help

More than one million Americans live in assisted-living facilities today and the number is growing. The tech industry sees the potential and is trying to find solutions which will appeal to the baby boomer generation, because they also have money to spend.  

According to the Assisted Living Federation of America (ALFA), seven times more women than men are living in this type of facilities. This can be explained by the fact women outlive men by seven years, which leaves women alone for a longer period of time in their old age. Lately, according to the Social Security Administration, there has been a tendency for the average lifespan of men to also grow, so the need for assisted living will increase also.

For now, the typical resident in an assisted living facility is a woman in her late 80’s, who is still independent, but needs help with certain daily tasks, like bathing, dressing, or medication management. Osteoporosis or high blood pressure might be some of the chronic conditions she is suffering from.

While assisted living can be a practical solution for many people, especially those who have previously been hospitalized and don’t have families to care for them, for others, independent living as long as possible remains the goal. This is where new technology could come in handy to help people age in their own homes.

According to CNBC, Amazon is also looking to develop this type of technology, which makes Google’s growing interest even more believable. Another argument is that of repurposing existing Nest products, making them useful in elder care. Family members could see if loved ones are okay by using Nest’s camera products. The company’s smart locks could be adapted to let in only certain people, like medical staff, caregivers, or Meals on Wheels providers. It now remains to be seen when Google will decide it is time to reveal Nest’s future projects and how close that future might be.

 

Anca Spanu
Healthcare Weekly Staff

Anca's career in journalism spans over 2 decades. She has served as staff writer, editor and deputy chief editor at various media outlets all over the world. At Healthcare Weekly, Anca writes about current events, innovations in the healthcare space and events/ conferences with a focus on investing & startups.

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