Age Related Barriers to Digital Health Remain-The HSB Blog 5/24/22


Our Take:


Age-related barriers to using digital health services persist, despite the significant uptake and shift to digitized healthcare. Digital health companies that design user friendly services or products for the elderly could mitigate adverse health-related outcomes and worsened chronic conditions linked to usage barriers by addressing the age-related barriers. Technological literacy gaps seen amongst the elderly are worth considering in the design and implementation of digital health innovations for the elderly to ensure digital inclusion.


Key Takeaways:

  • Just 26% of internet users ages 65 and over say they feel very confident when using computers, smartphones or other electronic devices to do the things they need to do online according to a 2015 Pew Research Center Study.

  • As noted by Dario Health President Rick Anderson “The pandemic pushed the digital health world forward at an expedited rate of 15 years in three weeks.”

  • A 2021 survey from American Advisors Group found that “83% of respondents stated they feel safer at home compared to elsewhere, and 40% said their independence is the most important benefit of aging in place.”

  • Tomorrow Health CEO Vijay Kedar states that “90% of senior citizens wanted to age in place (at home), making the home the highest value site of care.”

The Problem:


Digital health is becoming an integral part of healthcare. The COVID pandemic has brought many more digital health solutions into the mainstream as a method of receiving care, yet certain demographics like the elderly risk being left out. This is a result of the massive digital health information divide between the younger and older generations. For example a 2015 Pew Research Center study noted that roughly 73% of seniors would consider themselves confident in their ability to use electronic devices to do necessary online activities. Similarly a November 2020 study from AgeUK found that, 39% of over 65s [in the U.K.] don’t feel confident using a smartphone. Although the pandemic has shown that the elderly can engage and receive healthcare digitally, the existing technologies do not meet the needs of the elderly because it is lacking in seamlessness and usability. Digital health companies that value inclusion need to adapt the design and functionality of technological solutions to provide value-based care to elderly patients.


The Backdrop:


The significant increase in digital health adoption and utilization by the elderly triggered by the pandemic has pushed healthcare innovators to explore innovating frictionless digital health experience for older users. In addition, a 2021 survey from American Advisors Group found that “83% of respondents stated they feel safer at home compared to elsewhere, and 40% said their independence is the most important benefit of aging in place.” However, the gap in digital health literacy has posed a major challenge to digital health adoption compared to that seen among younger, more digitally native users. Many older adults may also face physical limitations such as hearing, sight or dexterity that might limit their use of devices. Digital health solutions that are intentional about creating user interfaces that are easy to understand and utilize could yield positive health outcomes for the elderly. For example, companies like VitalTech have developed smart wearable devices that use a cloud-based platform to improve patient health and wellness through connected care. In addition, smartwatches from consumer electronics manufacturers like Apple and Samsung are increasingly seeking ways to connect with or tailor products for seniors that can help them track vitals, send alerts for falls and even give daily medication reminders. VitalTech’s interface between the smartphone applications that accompany the smartwatch is viewable by family members and could alert them to any potential threats to the user’s health.


Implications:


Digital health solutions can have a significant impact on the health outcomes and well-being of seniors. With fewer in-person healthcare options combined with the risk of exposure to COVID, older people who have chronic health conditions are being persuaded to embrace them more readily. This alongside mobility issues or other healthcare needs are “increasingly willing to turn toward virtual health services and products so they don’t have to leave the home”.


These technologies can be particularly helpful with certain chronic conditions like cardiovascular disease, where lifestyle modification and self-management of chronic conditions are critical to improving outcomes. Studies have shown the significant effects of mHealth interventions in improving cardiovascular risk factors, such as blood pressure control, smoking cessation, and physical activity.” Therefore, creating user-friendly, easy-to-use applications for senior citizens and younger generations alike is a key way to reduce adverse health effects such as chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and blood glucose related conditions. Also, monitoring devices that allow for continuous tracking of elderly patients’ chronic condition such as diabetes and hypertension can help give a more continuous picture of a patient’s condition, which could lead to earlier preventive care or mitigate health risks for older adults. While the projected growth of the aging at home trend presents ample opportunity for digital health companies to target and invest significantly in digital health solutions, these solutions must be customized for them in order to achieve success.


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