SXSW 2022: Best Buy, Samsung placing big bets on home health care as more seniors want to age in place

AUSTIN, Texas—The number of households headed by people age 65 and older is expected to grow from 34 million to 48 million in the next two decades, according to studies from the Urban Institute.

At the same time, most adults 50 and older (77%) want to remain in their homes for the long term, data show.

This opens up the potential to use technologies to help seniors age at home, and it's a business opportunity that isn't lost on technology company Samsung and retail giant Best Buy.

"If you were a consumer electronics retailer five years ago, and you said to yourself, 'Where is consumer electronics going?' you're going to say 'Well, it's going with all the great tech that Samsung is coming up with and putting in our house.' At the same time, people are getting older, they're aging, and people need to take care of themselves in their homes," said Deborah Di Sanzo, president of Best Buy Health, on Saturday during a session at the SXSW 2022 conference.

"We have been talking for a decade about the consumerization of healthcare. And it never really came. Then the pandemic cane and just took it home. Technology is moving into health, and health is moving into the home," she said.

Best Buy has been ramping up its healthcare strategy with a focus on senior and elder care technologies and digital health solutions. Last year, the retailer spent nearly $400 million to acquire remote patient monitoring technology vendor Current Health.

In 2018, Best Buy shelled out $800 million cash for Great Call, a provider of connected health and personal emergency response services to the aging population, with more than 900,000 paying subscribers. 

The company also has partnerships with telehealth company TytoCare for its remote medical exam kit, in-home healthcare startup Workpath for in-home blood draws and ScriptDrop for medication delivery.

In 2019, Morgan Stanley estimated Best Buy's push into the healthcare market could unlock $11 billion to $46 billion in potential revenues, Forbes reported.

"The No. 1 product that we sell is our Lively flip phones," Di Sanzo said. "When you push that button, that button gets you to 1,400 highly trained, empathetic caring center agents who can get you am urgent response in case you fell."

She added, "They can connect you with an MDLive physician, they can get you a Lyft ride, they can check your medications and they can connect you to other caregivers and a host of other services that we provide all from a button. It's very important to know that care is just a call away."

Samsung provides digital health solutions for healthcare organizations, including through mobile devices and tablets. The consumer electronics giant sees opportunities for the use of its technology in healthcare, especially to help aging seniors live healthy at home, said Hon Pak, M.D., chief medical officer at Samsung Electronics.

"We're in the home with mobile devices, TVs and appliances, and we see the collision of healthcare happening in the home," he said.

"With wearables, particularly with the aging population, it’s a different way of engaging them than mobile devices because we can collect information like body composition, heart rate to detect arrhythmia and sleep score, and it’s only going to get better. This device on our wrist, it started out as a toy for measuring steps, and now it's headed toward colliding with medical devices that are being manufactured," Pak said.

In five to 10 years, wearable technology will enable continuous monitoring of physiological parameters, such as continuous glucose monitoring and blood pressure, he noted.

"Once you start doing that, it will fundamentally change how we practice medicine because we don’t practice like that today. We measure blood pressure episodically. By being able to track patterns and variations that occur, we will know a lot more, and we’ll be able to help patients in a more dynamic way and understand what’s going on," he said.

Two years ago, at the CES 2020 show in Las Vegas, Samsung unveiled a new "personal care robot" that uses artificial intelligence to help seniors connect with smart devices in the home and can serve as a fitness assistant.

Both Pak and Di Sanzo said their companies are focused on improving the consumer and patient journey.

Best Buy has shifted its Geek Squad tech support to focus on helping consumers with medical devices and other digital health tools.

"We are training our blue shirts to walk through with people to get the right blood pressure cuff and help you to get that uploaded to Apple," she said.

Pak said technology companies need to improve user design for the senior population. "The takeaway is, there's going to be more focus on the home and we need to look at how to decide the next-generation of products for users that aren’t just 17 years old," he said. 

Di Sanzo added, "My advice is really put a 75-year-old person on your design team and then your designs will become more engaging."

The Best Buy Health president said she learned from her own personal experience that digital health solutions are often difficult for senior patients to use.

In December 2020, her husband suffered a stroke. When he was recovering at the hospital, a neurologist provided quick instructions on how to use at-home medical devices.

"The neurologist said to my husband, who just had a stroke, 'So do you have an Apple phone? Good, so go buy a blood pressure cuff, use that everyday and then download the readings to your phone and upload to Apple Health and then that might upload to my Epic and in two weeks we'll have a follow-up Zoom call,'" she said.

"We bought the wrong blood pressure cuff and it was just too darn hard to use. It was not trivial to upload it to Apple Health, and it was impossible to get it into Epic," she said.

Pak said Samsung wants to build an ecosystem of partners among digital health companies who can build applications for its wearables and devices.

"We have a lot resources, but we can’t innovate fast enough in healthcare. We’re taking a more open innovation approach where we develop the systems took kit (STK) to reduce friction for using the data coming off," he said.

Samsung partners with digital health companies like physIQ, an AI-based remote monitoring solution. PhysIQ takes raw waveform data from Samsung smartwatches and develops its own algorithm to turn those data into insights for clinicians, Pak said.

"It takes a village to solve this complex problem. We're here to learn from people," Pak said. "We want to let our partners know that we have an open ecosystem approach to our wearables and other technologies. We don’t plan to solve every problem in the aging-in-place technology space. Innovation has to occur at a much greater speed."