Tech savvy seniors use tech

As people take on self-service across all aspects of daily living, self-care in health is growing beyond the use of vitamins/minerals/supplements, over-the-counter meds, and trying out the blood-pressure cuff in the pharmacy waiting for a prescription to be filled. Today, health consumers the world over have begun to engage in self-care using digital technologies. And this isn’t just a phenomenon among people in the Millennial generation.

Most seniors who regularly use technology (e.g., using computers and mobile phones) are also active in digitally tracking their weight, for example, learned in a survey by Accenture.

Older people who use technology in daily living (say, for entertainment or financial management) are keen to use tech for health, too. Specifically, illustrated in the infographic, Accenture found that:

  • 2 in 3 older people want to use self-care technology to manage their health
  • 3 in 5 older people are willing to track vital signs like heart rate and blood pressure via a digital device
  • 3 in 5 older people are likely to join an online community to check a clinician’s advice before taking it on
  • 1 in 3 older people would like to work with a patient navigator to manage health
  • One-fourth of older people use an electronic health record to manage health – notably to access lab results (57%), which is among the most popular uses for online patient portals across all systems currently in place in the U.S.

Accenture’s poll was conducted in May-June 2014 globally, among over 10,000 adults. The sample included a focus into 354 U.S. consumers age 65+ enrolled in Medicare, exploring their use of technology for health.

Utilization of health care services 65-74 EBRIHealth Populi’s Hot Points:  A pioneering cadre of early-adopting seniors is keen on Fitbits and mobile apps to track activity, food and weight. We’re not nearly at a tipping point here, but health is social, and as older people share health tips in bridge games and on the tennis court, at cocktail parties and at the church social, and in the workplace as well (as many people are working well past historic retirement age), word-of-mouth is a powerful force for growing adoption. So is a physician’s recommendation, and we’ve entered the era of doctors prescribing information therapy, as well as the start of app “prescriptions.”

People age 65-74 use prescription drugs and visit medical offices more than any other health care services, shown in the second graphic. These data come from EBRI‘s latest study into Utilization Patterns and Out-of-Pocket Expenses for Different Health Care Services Among American Retirees, published in February 2015. The role of digital tools to help manage medication adherence (the proper use of prescription drugs) and providing virtual health visits (via Skype-type HIPAA-compliant technology platforms) is clear here: we can drive good care and health outcomes, while bending the cost curve, through the adoption of digital and mobile tech to all people, and especially to older people.

That may be necessary if we seek to get to The Triple Aim, but it’s not sufficient: people need to understand the value of the tools (the importance health literacy), they need to trust the tools to be willing to opt-in and engage (where trust is a precursor to health engagement), and in the best-of-all-design-worlds, the tools need to be pretty seamless in fitting into our lives — or better yet, near-invisible, as this wonderful take in Fast.Co Design attests. I quote @OneJaredNewman: “People make room for more devices when there’s sufficient value.”