On-Demand Services Can Help Seniors Ease Age In Place But Be Aware of Their Limits

The uberization of senior services is all the rage. You can download an app and order up a home visit from a doctor. You can get home delivered groceries or prepared foods. And, of course, you can get a ride.

While these services were designed primarily for the young and overworked, there are real potential benefits for older adults and others with disabilities who are aging in place. The most obvious: They have the potential to deliver critical supports to people with mobility issues.

Community volunteer coordinators will tell you that rides (often to the doctor or a grocery store) are by far their most requested service. And reliable rides can sometimes be the difference between remaining at home and having to move to facility-based care. They can be especially helpful where adult children are juggling their own busy schedules with the needs of their frail parents. No time to take mom shopping? Now you have options.

But….These services are not a panacea. Some have built-in limitations. Others are still experiments—at least for seniors. At the very least, careful shopping is in order. Let’s take a look at a couple of these ideas:

Ride sharing. The benefits are clear: If mom can no longer drive or walk to the bus stop, having a driver some to her doorstep can be great. Plus, if you set up an account, she doesn’t need to pay at the end of each trip. No fumbling with money, and if the account is yours, she won’t worry about how much she is spending for the service.  Even better: If she finds a driver she likes, she might be able get him regularly.

But there are issues. Few ride-sharing drivers know how to assist people with limited mobility. And many don’t want to deal with someone who cannot get into the car himself.  Uber has a program called UberASSIST that trains drivers to help people who need more help. And UberWAVE  provides wheelchair accessible vehicles.  In some cities, Lyft is partnering with senior communities to improve its services. But these options remain limited.

Similarly, older adults who are not tech savvy may not be able to manage the web-based apps to order rides. If dad isn’t comfortable with a smartphone, there are now third-party services that will order a ride for you, for an additional fee of course. Here is one example.

Grocery delivery. These services seemingly have been around forever, but never really caught on. That might be change with the proposed acquisition of Whole Foods by Amazon. It would give the on-line shopping behemoth another platform for home delivery, and could well be copied by other retailers. I suspect they’re mostly thinking about frazzled 30-something customers with kids and demanding jobs. But, with a little creativity, they could reach out to older adults and people with disabilities. Since many seniors struggle to cook even if the food is available, high-quality pre-made meals might be as valuable as groceries.

On-demand medical care. This may be the most interesting trend, though it has a long way to go. The back-to-the-future idea of home visits by medical professionals has great promise.  But it too comes with pitfalls and challenges for both consumers and the firms themselves.

Unlike the traditional model built around a sole practitioner, this is an on-line platform that connects patients with contract docs. Today, a handful of on-demand firms operate in a few cities. Some, such as heal.com, focus on home visits for acute care or routine physicials. Heal provides services in parts of California and Washington, D.C. and takes some insurance. If you are not covered, visits are $99.

Like heal.com, New York City-based Pager, also focuses on relatively minor ailments (roughly what could be treated at an urgent care center).  It will send a medical professional to your home, but first will try to address your issues through video chats with medical professionals.

There may be yet another less costly and more effective model out there: Home care docs tell me that patients often need advice about social supports more than medical treatment. Maybe a smart entrepreneur can figure out an app to send a social worker to your home.

On-demand services hold real promise for those aging at home. At least for those who can afford to pay for them since they are not cheap. But when it comes to tailoring services that are primarily focused on younger consumers into something that can benefit seniors, they remain largely a work-in-progress.

 

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