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A Look at Using Digital Health Tools to Engage Seniors

The digital health revolution is taking the healthcare industry by storm, and younger consumers are jumping to take part in these new tools. Used to utilizing digital tools in nearly every other aspect of their lives, millennials and other members of the younger generations are increasingly looking to digital tools to help manage their health.

But what about older generations? As baby boomers age, the healthcare industry is looking at an increase in costs and treatments for conditions like cancer, diabetes, dementia, obesity, and more. The number of Americans that are age 65 or older is likely to hit upwards of 70 million by the year 2030. These new technologies stand to give older adults a huge advantage in proactively managing their health. How can digital health tools help engage senior adults and encourage them to more directly manage their healthcare needs?

Digital Health Misconceptions

Some of the problems with getting older adults to use digital tools are rooted in misconceptions about how and why these tools work. Let’s take a look at a few common misconceptions that can cause older adults to be more cautious about adopting newer digital health technologies.

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“That’s For Old People”

Interestingly, one common misconception is that older adults view some digital health tools—such as emergency alert buttons—as only something needed for “really old” people. A Pew survey even found that many people don’t consider themselves “old” until they reach 72. People don’t want to feel old enough to need these so-called emergency tools, so they avoid adopting them.

One way to get around this dilemma is by encouraging older adults to think of these tools as not just for emergencies, but as an easy way to stay connected to healthcare resources while maintaining their independence. By the same token, older adults often view healthcare technology as something only needed in a real emergency. They don’t see the need for such tools if they don’t see themselves at risk. But digital health tools offer much more than just emergency services, of course; they can be an essential resource for consultations, education, and mental or emotional support. They can also help older adults monitor chronic conditions, just as they help younger people in this way.

Senior Concerns Over Healthcare

In 2015, an Accenture Research survey looked at seniors’ top concerns about healthcare and came up with some interesting results. More than three out of five seniors show a willingness to use wearables to help monitor their health: for example, devices that track vital signs like blood pressure, blood sugar, and heart rate. Seniors are also quite likely to look to online communities for doctors’ recommendations (around three out of five surveyed). In addition, nearly one quarter of seniors access their electronic health records regularly, particularly lab results.

Interestingly, the same study also showed that while around 83 percent believe they should have full access to these records, only about 28 percent actually have such access. Older adults also are increasingly aware of the importance of digital health tools, looking to improve their communication with providers (more than half believe emailing with a provider is important) and accessing health information and booking appointments online.

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These and other surveys show that senior adults are actively trying to engage with digital health tools. Though there is often more hesitation than you might find with so-called “digital natives,” senior adults understand more about technology than they are given credit for. It’s up to providers and digital health companies now to meet these patients halfway by providing them with the tools they need.  

Meeting Them Halfway

Digital health companies and healthcare providers looking to engage seniors in their healthcare should keep a few factors in mind. Though they are willing to learn, some new technologies will give senior adults some trouble in the adoption process. To that end, new digital health companies should keep things simple, ensuring that advertising materials are easy to understand and that websites are simple and user-friendly in navigation. Streamlined, intuitive interfaces will help encourage seniors to engage with these new tools and learn how they work.

Increasing social media activity will also help; more and more seniors are creating an online presence on Twitter or Facebook, and social media advertising and posting can help increase their engagement with new digital health tools. Exciting and relevant content that seniors want to share with their networks is a great way to increase the use of new tools. For instance, the American Osteopathic Association notes that almost 60 percent of seniors will rely on recommendations from friends and family when seeking a healthcare provider.

Seniors today are more active than previous generations, and they are approaching their health in a different way. Today’s seniors don’t want to slow down, and many don’t consider themselves old until they are well into their 70s! That means they are looking more and more into ways to stay proactive about their healthcare. Both the digital health sector and the broader healthcare industry need to keep up.