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"Searchable" Senior Care Directories. A Rapidly Growing Product Category.

Posted Jun 01 2009 10:45pm

Leena Rao at TechCrunch posted an excellent blog titled " OurParents Launches Free Customized Service To Find Senior Care Providers".  Techcrunch writing about the senior care space is a big deal given their enormous popularity and PR clout. So kudos to the marketing and PR team at OurParents for getting the visibility.   And based on a quick look around OurParents I was very impressed. They will be a fun company to watch.

This space (searchable provider directories of senior care companies) is exploding so I thought I'd share with readers of this blog my thoughts on the space.

Again, these are my opinions so if I mischaracterize anything PLEASE let me know. 

First of all, let me define what is meant by "searchable provider directories of senior care companies".  In a nutshell, these are online directories that allow people to search for various types of elder/senior care companies from residential care to medical products to handyman. However, most seem to focus on in-home care, assisted living and nursing homes (the most lucrative and widely requested type of senior care providers).

There appear to be THREE broad models although I realize there are many variations and hybrids of each.

MODEL ONE: LEAD REFERRAL
These are what I call pay-to-play models whereby the only companies who get listed or referred are those who pay to be in the search results. With some variations of this model, you don't actually get to view the search results. Instead, you are contacted by a sales rep or "care consultant" who helps connect you to a provider (and of course they get paid a commission if you choose that provider). While these models can be quite useful their downside is you may not be referred to the best provider if they have not paid to be in the directory. An example of this model is A Place for Mom, who I believe is the largest company of its kind oin this space.

MODEL TWO: USER-POPULATED
These directories include companies who have taken the time to create a listing - usually at no charge although they can get premier placement for a fee. The main downside to this model is again, you may not get a complete listing of providers in your area or the information may be out of date. The quality varies considerably amongst the various directories. An example of this model is The Senior List but there are hundreds of these sites. 

MODEL THREE: MAINTAINED DATABASES
I could not think of a better name for these directories so I use the word "maintained" because typically the company running these sites gets their information from their own internal researchers, state licensing or other agencies and/or databases. This insures (a) all providers in a particular zip code are listed and (b) the information is up-to-date. Needless to say, there are a lot fewer of these sites because they are very expensive to run - labor intensive.  As a result, many companies in this space are focusing on a specific category such as Assisted Living with hopes of expanding into other categories in the future. I believe SNAP for Seniors and OurParents (the site Techcrunch reviewed), are good examples of this model although their business models are quite different.

 Some of the best companies with maintained databases are not B2C but B2B companies like Employee Assistance (EAP) or work-life vendors who provide these services as an employee benefit by charging employers who in turn offer the online directories (and access to caregiving consultants) to employees as a benefit. Examples of these include LifeCare.com, Ceridian andCIGNA

PUBLIC SECTOR DIRECTORIES
Although these most closely resembles MODEL THREE, I broke it out because unlike other models, these directories have no "business model" and don't need to make money :-). Instead, our tax dollars support them. These are government sites that provide listings of various types of providers. As a result, they are bare-bones, often difficult or cumbersome to navigate and provide no enhanced listings or bells and whistles.

MAKING MONEY
Ahh, details, details, details. There is no question the demand for these types of sites is going to balloon. But what types, how many and who will survive remains a mystery because there is no clear winners in terms of business models. True, model 1 seems to make money today but there are a lot of unanswered questions about the growth potential of these types of services. 

With regard to model 2, the B2B EAP and work-life companies I mentioned will continue to do very well as they have for decades because they have a proven business model. But the B2C companies adopting model 2 currently don't have a sustainable revenue stream (no, advertising in my opinion is not sustainable in this sector - yet) and whether or not they can make money by up-selling other services like insurance and health related products is unknown. This may explain why the B2B companies like Lifecare.com and Ceridian have yet to penetrate this market. Why should they? Although you can bet they'll do it when they figure out how to go B2C without cannibalizing their profitable B2B business.

In the meantime, consumers have a lot more choices today than they did a year ago in terms of finding senior care resources. And that's a good thing.

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