Business Monday

Aiding eldercare: MobileHelp builds up its digital safety net

Rob Flippo
Rob Flippo

There’s no slowing down for a Boca Raton technology company focused on helping the elderly be safer and live longer.

MobileHelp began its life in the “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” industry, with a system that gave their customers a way to seek medical help by pushing a button on pendants worn around their necks. But in a few short years, the company has put medical alert technology to use not only to detect falls without requiring an elderly person in distress to push a button, but to prevent falls as well.

MobileHelp does this with the help of its new MobileHelp Connect app that notifies authorized family members or caregivers of emergencies, provides location information to caregivers, and offers verbal medication notifications for customers. Now it is releasing its newest feature on the app: a tracker that monitors activity levels and gives caregivers reports.

The big vision: empowering the elderly to live more safely on their own while easing the worries of their loved ones.

“We wanted to move away from being a completely reactive system to being more proactive and really providing service to the customer besides just waiting for a bad event to happen,” said Robert Flippo, CEO of the company. “It’s not about frail and old and feeble, it’s about being prepared, and in the case of the activity tracker, it’s about getting data in real time that you can share to actively monitor your health. These are features where our industry as a whole has not been very innovative and really separate us from the pack.”

MobileHelp, founded in 2006 and based at the Research Park at Florida Atlantic University, today has more than 100,000 customers in all 50 states and generated nearly $18.7 million in revenue in 2013. With a three-year sales growth of 3,305 percent from 2010 to 2013, the 125-employee company ranked No. 111 in the 2014 Inc. 500|5000, a prestigious ranking of the nation's fastest-growing private companies.

To support its rapid growth, MobileHelp has now raised $15 million, including an investment from Tampa-based Stonehenge Growth Equity Partners this year. “In addition to innovative technology, MobileHelp has demonstrated a history of solid growth and a scalable recurring revenue business model,” Steven Lux, managing partner of Stonehenge Growth Equity Partners, said in a statement. “With an expanding aging population that is more mobile than in past generations and the increasing cost of healthcare, we see a huge opportunity for MobileHelp.”

The global medical alert systems market is expected to move from around $1.23 billion in 2013 to about $2 billion by the year 2020, according to 2014 IndustryARC research. Personal alert systems that offer wellness-focused monitoring systems as well as social connectedness technologies are predicted to grow in market share from 15 percent in 2012 to 61 percent in 2017.

The big numbers are supported by underlying trends: In the United States, there will be more than 74 million people 65 or older by the year 2020. Seniors are becoming more tech-savvy, and under the Affordable Care Act, hospitals and health networks are looking for ways to maintain medical oversight while keeping people out of the hospital.

MobileHelp’s former CEO, Scott Adams, brought in Flippo, who previously worked for Motorola in product development and for Emergin, a healthcare alert software firm sold to Philips in 2007, to lead the company as president and COO in 2008.

Back then, the product was still in prototype stage, with entrenched competitors like Life Alert and its much-maligned “I’ve Fallen and I Can’t Get Up” commercials. With research showing that nearly half of falls happen outside the home, MobileHelp began moving into product lines that differentiated itself from its rivals. The company said it was first to introduce a mobile solution for seniors who wanted access to emergency assistance, but who were also active and therefore frequently away from a traditional home-based station. “By adding mobility in the early days, we had a real differentiator out of the gate,” Flippo said.

Adams, a serial entrepreneur, handed Flippo the CEO reins in 2011. Adams remains chairman, but he has gone on to found the startup GroupCare Technologies, which is creating a medical alert tracking device for people with Alzheimer's and autism.

In the past year, MobileHelp introduced another innovation: the Fall Button, a neck pendant with motion signal processing technology capable of detecting a fall automatically — no press of the emergency button required.

The fall detection technology was key for MobileHelp because in four out of five falls, seniors aren’t able to press that button and signal for help, said Chris Otto, vice president of product development. Furthermore, the American Academy of Family Physicians has published research that links the fear of falling to increased immobility. “Seniors who are living at home trying to maintain their independence but are afraid of falling avoid activities that put them at risk of falling,” he said.

Following the fall detection, MobileHelp this year introduced an application to help people manage their medications — one of the largest proactive steps to prevent falls from happening in the first place. And most recently, the company is using its fall detection algorithm to not only detect if a fall has taken place, but to monitor activity levels in general — providing people with the capability to proactively track trends related to mobility.

For instance, a caregiver or an authorized family member living miles away can see at a glance if the MobileHelp customer has been as active as they have in the past, as the activity can be graphed over the week, month or year and patterns can emerge. A family member can also get a regular email that might say something like: Sam was 19 percent more active this week compared to last week. Sam had three days of moderate activity instead of two.

“The fall detection and the activity tracker together help you ease your concern about falling but also encourage you to stay active and well. As studies indicate, the less mobile you are, the more likely you will have a fall; it’s a natural marriage of a reactive safety product and a proactive wellness product,” said Otto, who developed the most recent technologies for MobileHelp.

The service costs $37 to $42 a month depending on whether the customer pays monthly or annually. There are no contracts. MobileHelp has maintained an “A” rating with the Better Business Bureau and often shows up on lists of top personal medical alert services.

That doesn’t surprise Shirley Mazursky. “I’ve found the service to be terrific. It has saved my life,” said the 85-year-old South Florida resident, describing two emergencies where she got help within minutes.

When Mazursky thought she was having a heart attack, she pushed the button on the MobileHelp pendant she wears around her neck. That alerted 911 as well as her loved ones. And before that, she fell and broke her hip last year. She had just bought MobileHelp two days earlier.

The active senior likes the mobility of the system — she can even take the MobileHelp with her when she goes on extended visits to New York. She also appreciates that the technology has the geo-location feature.

Mazursky feels so strongly about the service that she agreed to go on a national commercial for MobileHelp: “I’m on a commercial on TV. I do not get paid by them, I just felt it is very important for the public to know that there is something that can help them and save their lives.”

Flippo said MobileHelp will be unveiling more “proactive” technologies in the digital health arena at the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

“As we continue to grow and innovate, we will continue to change the lives of our customers,” Flippo said. “It’s pretty rewarding. Business is great, but really helping people and changing lives is even better.”

Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg.

Information from the Sun Sentinel was used in this report.


Business: Provides M-PERS (Mobile-Personal Emergency Response System) devices that are integrated with nationwide wireless voice, data and GPS technology to provide real-time medical monitoring services and location tracking for expedited personal emergency assistance.

Headquarters: Boca Raton.

Products include: Cellular DUO, providing an in-home cellular base station and a mobile device to protect customers away from home; Fall Button, a pendant that works in conjunction with MobileHelp’s DUO device to provide emergency assistance anywhere users go and it also detects falls without requiring the customer to push a button; MobileHelp Connect, a secure online portal and app, accessible to subscribers and authorized caregivers, to virtually track and manage aspects related to the customer’s health — from emergency event notification to utilization of available applications, such as medication reminders and activity monitoring.

Founder: Elias Janetis.

Management team: Robert Flippo, CEO; Scott Adams, chairman; Dennis Boyle, president and COO; Jean Robichaud, CTO; Joel Richardson, CFO.

Customers: More than 100,000 in all 50 states.

Employees: 125.