3 Reasons Why Caregivers Still Hire Panic Buttons vs. Activity Monitors

Sombit Mishra

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs"People don't want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!" ~Theodore Levitt

Clay Christensen has built his reputation around his theories on disruptive innovation—foremost among them is that companies need to focus less on what consumers say they want and more on the jobs to be done.

Despite the criticisms leveled at LifeAlert and traditional panic button products, as well as their campy "I've fallen and I can't get up" commercials, it's important to remember that the panic button is typically hired to fulfill a very specific and important job:  enable mom to call for help when she needs it most.

Now critics can argue about how panic buttons have failed to fulfill this job (we agree), but we thought we'd spend this post highlighting why panic buttons have been selling successfully for so long.

1)      Keeping mom safe vs. healthy:  Panic buttons don't profess to keep Mom healthy.  They fulfill an incident-based need: when Mom is in trouble (fall, home intrusion, etc.), she can press the button to get help. In terms of the job to be done—keeping Mom safe—it's important to remember who/what panic buttons are competing with.  The primary competitors are an in-person caregiver and, in the case of home intrusion, a home alarm system.  If an in-person caregiver is there to help Mom in case of trouble, there is little need for a panic button because the caregiver can likely fulfill the job.  This is why panic button companies typically target users who live alone and have a remote or part-time caregiver vs. a full-time, live-in caregiver.   

In contrast, activity monitors or medical alert system take on the daunting job of helping to keep people healthy.  There are many products competing with an activity monitor for this job:  the gym, a personal trainer, in-home equipment, fitness videos, friends, 5Ks, sports leagues, etc.  Also, inasmuch as people want to be healthy, many are not willing to hire a product to get healthy. As one consumer put it, "why should I hire a gym or trainer if I'm the one who has to put in the work?"  In other words, it's not the activity monitor or gym or trainer who fulfills the job of staying healthy—it's you.  That's a hard value proposition for a lot of people to buy into unless someone else finances it and keeps them consistently motivated (i.e. self-insured employer, friends, etc.).

A panic button customer pays for a monthly service to fulfill the job of keeping Mom safe. To this point, the average lifetime of a customer in this market has averaged out to roughly 3 years.  In contrast, an activity monitor customer often pays for the sensor, but is far less likely to hire the activity monitoring company on a monthly basis to keep them healthy. Part of the reason for this comes from point #2 below.

2)      Minimizing effort and maximizing potential reward: Panic button systems require low effort to set up/maintain and feature high potential reward for the buyer.  They don't need to be recharged (batteries typically last between 1-5 years), are waterproof, and can be worn all day and during sleep.  The high potential reward is that the panic button may be able to save Mom’s life when she is most in need.

This is not the case for most activity monitors, which require considerable effort to maintain and provide questionable rewards (e.g. how can I make use of this data to stay healthy?).  From an effort/maintenance perspective, most Bluetooth- and GPS-based devices require daily or weekly battery recharge.   This is very cumbersome for users. In addition, there is an inherent downtime and corresponding gaps in information if the user has to recharge the device.  Thus, it’s not surprising that consumers question the utility of an activity monitor in fulfilling the job to be done.

3)      The aging market is still more aware of panic buttons and security systems than activity monitors:  However, this report from Aging in Place Technology Watch shows that activity monitors are starting to gain visibility among older adults.  For example, 60% of seniors said that they would value and use an activity monitor:

panic buttons and security systems vs. activity monitors

Unfortunately, despite their promise and successful sales history, panic buttons have failed in the job to be done. At QMedic, we are applying the lessons above to deliver on the promise of keeping Mom safe.


Interested in reading more posts from QMedic - Read our last post "QMedic's NCI contracts and their impact on mHealth".