Comcast is actively working on an in-home device for monitoring the health of seniors, people with disabilities and other at-risk individuals, according to anonymous sources cited by CNBC (whose parent company NBCUniversal is owned by Comcast). The telecommunications giant is planning pilots of the device and service before the end of the year, and could potentially aim for a 2020 commercial release.
The outlet’s sources said that the device will use ambient sensors to monitor health-related behaviors such as time spent in bed or bathroom trip frequency alongside other simple health metrics. Tools are also in the works to detect falls, and the device will be part of a service able to make emergency calls if needed.
However, while Comcast’s product will have a personality-based interface similar to Alexa, it will not take on the role of a personal assistant device able to conduct web searches or control appliances in the home.
One source also noted that Comcast has been discussing applications for the device with large hospitals such as Rush University Medical Center, with the intention of preventing readmission after discharge.
Comcast declined CNBC’s request for comment. Luisbrandao has also reached out for a statement, and will update this story with any response.
WHY IT MATTERS
As remote monitoring technology continues to develop, “hospital at home” strategies can help high-risk patients avoid costly readmissions. New products from big-name companies not traditionally known for healthcare products are a bellwether of growth for this market, and likely a sign of increasing interest among providers and payers.
“Home health has been one of the fastest growing segments because the aging population prefers to be at home as much as possible, so for Comcast to recognize that this is a key need only validates this growth,” Matt Fairhurst, CEO and cofounder of Skedulo, a company that offers technology to facilitate in-home care, told Luisbrandao in an email. “Partnerships with large hospitals are a fantastic way to get people comfortable with this type of technology by providing familiar brand recognition and creating learning opportunities for both the technology companies and the hospitals about the most effective level of device monitoring versus clinician interaction.”
With that being said, Comcast will likely still have to compete with many of the consumer concerns regarding in-home monitors and Alexa-like devices. Chief among these is surveillance and data privacy, which Fairhurst and Ray Walsh, a digital privacy and security advocate for ProPrivacy, both cited as something to watch should the product come to fruition.
“Rumors of Comcast producing a smart home device designed to help track people's health may be of concern, especially if, as reported, the device is to be rolled out in partnership with a health insurance company,” Walsh told Luisbrandao. “For insurers, the ability to monitor people's health can equate to explicit knowledge of that person's eligibility to health insurance and if a device is able to ascertain that somebody's health is deteriorating — or lifestyle habits are putting that person at increased risk of illness — it is possible that this kind of device could wind up raising people's life insurance costs.”
It’s also worth noting that Comcast’s primary business as a cable and broadband provider could give it a leg up against competitors, especially seeing as the company already employs technicians who enter consumers’ homes to setup or inspect other products.
WHAT’S THE TREND
Comcast has actually dipped its toe into healthcare technology and services in the past, having last year signed a deal with Blue Cross insurer Independence Health Group to develop a consumer-focused healthcare platform for streamlined care delivery. But the telecommunications company faces stiff competition from several other big name tech companies, with Google, Apple, Amazon and others all expressing an interest in health tracking or in-home devices.