The coronavirus pandemic has revealed the importance of connectivity, WiFi, broadband, as a social determinant of health and living. Connecting from our homes — now our health hubs, workplaces, schools, entertainment centers, and gyms — is necessary like air and water for survival across daily life flows. Digital connectivity can ameliorate social isolation and anxiety, bolster mental health, and access needed medical care via telehealth channels.

As a result of the pandemic, staying connected is more important than ever for older people, Best Buy Health learned in a survey of U.S. adults. Insights from this study have informed the launch of the Lively Flip, which Best Buy Health introduces today. This phone updates the iconic Jitterbug, with enhancements designed for older people to, in the words of the company, “stay connected to the family, friends and the health services they need.”

The study of older Americans found that,

  • About 60% believe their cell phone has made them feel more connected to family/friends during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Two-thirds of older people primarily use their cell phone to text or call friends and family
  • 43% of older adults use their cell phone more frequently than before COVID-19
  • Nearly half assert their phone enabling them to stay connected to friends and family has increased in importance.

Clearly, while supporting older peoples’ healthy living at home was part of Best Buy Health’s initial vision that went public in August 2018, the pandemic has accelerated the demand for services the Lively Flip supports.

In early April 2020, “with shelter-in-place orders and the emotional need for people to connect for these major religious holidays, families and friends convened on videoconferencing platforms that had built their business models on companies convening meetings. Necessity being the mother of invention, people repurposed Zoom and other digital meeting applications for their personal use,” I wrote in my new book, Health Citizenship: How a virus opened hearts and minds.

Folks who had never accessed videoconferencing online did so, learning a new skill. The Zoom’ing meet-ups conducted among families and friends during this Judeo-Christian Holy Week 2020 may have done more for older Americans to cross the digital divide than a decade of marketing the benefits of social media did for closing the digital divide between older and younger consumers.

Now, a few months later, some grandparents, physically separated from beloved family due to the coronavirus risks, have morphed into “Baby Zoomers,” reading Goodnight Moon and The Velveteen Rabbit to grandchildren.

The Lively Flip builds on the Jitterbug, a flip phone that had about 1 million subscribers (all in the senior age segment) when Best Buy acquired GreatCall for $800 million. Among the new capabilities are Amazon Alexa voice services.

The company notes the top three features and services that older people seek in a mobile phone are emergency notifications, voice assistance, and access to telehealth.

Other features in the Lively Flip are:

  • 24 x 7 access to the GreatCall Urgent Response call center
  • Access to doctors and nurses through Urgent Care on the phone
  • The GreatCall link app for family caregivers
  • A reading magnifier with an LED flashlight
  • FM radio
  • Brain Games by Posit Science, among other apps and tools.

Another important feature worthy of call-out is the GreatCall Rides services, powered by Lyft. The company’s previous research learned that giving up driving is a big fear shared by older people, which negatively impacts self-esteem, independence, and peoples’ ability to socialize. Since starting GreatCall Rides with Lyft in 2018, three-fourths of the pilot riders have continued to patronize the service as repeat riders.

Health Populi’s Hot Points:  An article in an August 2020 Forbes noted that, “Coronavirus May Help Best Buy Become A Key Healthcare Player.

The article quotes industry analyst Seth Basham of Wedbush who noted, “With more people staying at home, Best Buy Health’s tech-based elderly-care offerings likely have seen a boost from the pandemic.” He forecasted that GreatCall could increase its phone subscriber based to 5 million by 2024, five times the current volume.

With the home as health hub, a phenomenon reinforced by the public health crisis, Best Buy Health’s (BBH) 2018 vision is meeting the moment, like the old Wayne Gretzky metaphor of knowing where the hockey puck would go and being there to meet it.

The company is now headed by Deborah DiSanzo who had previously led IBM Watson Health and Philips Healthcare. BBH is positioned in the growing retail health ecosystem to join with Amazon, CVS health, Walgreens, Walmart, and others blurring between brick-and-mortar storefronts, ecommerce, and data analytics platforms that could inform health consumers to self-manage health at home, and providers and insurers to bridge gaps between medical care encounters to, ultimately, improve care quality and reduce costs across the continuum of care and a person’s life span.

For more on the Lively Flip, check out this video…

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