Jitterbug: Mobile Entertainment tech for mHealth

By Brian Dolan

Jitterbug phoneAt the TEPR conference in Palm Springs this week, Arlene Harris, Chairwoman and co-founder of Greatcall, the parent company of the senior-focused Jitterbug mobile phone service announced her company's plans to offer a number of mHealth related applications and services. Harris said Jitterbug plans to do offer the services over the same types of phones that her company has been offering to the 55+ crowd and anyone else looking for a (very) simple user interface with no icons or multi-purposed buttons.

"My original business plan said we would be cashflow positive after an investment of $26 million," Harris said. "It's clear we are going to be way over $100 million [in investments] before our business is profitable." It's also clear that Harris intends mHealth applications like diabetes management, post-operation triage services and medicine adherence reminders to help contribute to the company's bottom line.

"Earlier at this conference someone predicted that all cellphones delivered to the market this year will be Internet-enabled. Well, that's not true," Harris said. "We are not Internet-enabling our phones. We are, however, launching new phones that are connected to a walled garden because we want to control the experience of our customers... [who are] technophobic, typically older, typically very costly to our healthcare industry."

Harris said that Jitterbug's most important goal was to get a mobile device into these people's hands so that they are then able to stay mobile--leave the house, maintain independence and still keep in touch with family and friends and their health providers--from anyone.

"So while we are going to be implementing data services on our phones, we are doing it in a controlled environment," Harris said. "Unlike Google or iPhone, we want to make sure that if we offer these services, that they have been sanitized for simplicity."

Harris said Jitterbug is currently conducting trials for diabetes management, rheumatoid arthritis management, outpatient post-op support and medication compliance as well as location-based services. Jitterbug's data enabled (1xCDMA) handsets are set to launch in the Spring, Harris said, and applications like the post-operation triage support and medicine compliance services are likely to be the first mHealth services that Jitterbug launches. The pilots for diabetes management services and rheumatoid arthritis management services are only just beginning.

"The wireless industry is very much focused on entertainment," Harris said. "I applaud anyone using the technology being spent on entertainment and repackaging it for mobile health, for applications that are less... youthful," she said. "Help us keep everyone more mobile."