Why the digital health user experience is key to senior uptake

Seniors make up a growing portion of the population in the U.S., and many express a desire to stay in their homes as they get older. 

Technology can help them thrive as they age, said panelists at CES 2023 on Thursday. But the digital health market needs to consider accessibility and usability to ensure those devices can make a difference.

“Seniors are more mobile, they’re more active in their lives. So mobile PERS [personal emergency response systems] versus just a panic button at home becomes really essential,” said Yaniv Amir, president of Essence USA, which offers security and remote care technology. “The other trend, like any other age group, is wearables. So you can see people are looking for wearables that can give them wellness with the panic button solutions.”

But devices like the Apple Watch or Fitbit trackers aren’t just targeted toward seniors, and that’s an important distinction, said Charlotte Yeh, chief medical officer at AARP Services.

“Historically, PERS were designed for old [people]. Nobody wants to admit to [being] old. Now PERS are designed for all,” she said. “So if you want to succeed in this market, you want to see it across the age span.” 

Daniel McCaffrey, vice president of digital health and software at Omron, said more patients are asking their doctors about remote patient monitoring systems and consumer health tracking devices, and the industry needs to ensure a smooth customer experience.

“They’ve used technology. They probably use Uber, they probably use Amazon. They’re expecting that type of quality. And so we have to rise to the occasion as digital health, as healthcare companies, and offer similar user experiences,” he said. 

Companies also need to keep an eye on the technology burden they’re placing on seniors and caregivers who may be simultaneously navigating the complex U.S. healthcare system, Yeh said. 

Seniors could have additional accessibility needs, like hearing or visual impairments that could impact how well devices work for them. Another important consideration is working to make remote monitoring devices cool. 

“Where is the fashion, the fun? We’re not worried about safety, but we’re worried about having fun and thriving. That’s the opportunity I think you can bring with technology,” Yeh said.

Some people aging at home will have to manage multiple chronic conditions. Cutting down on the number of devices and apps they need to keep track of will also enhance their experiences.

“I think we’re going to see a major transition towards the integration and overlay of glucose and blood pressure in a meaningful way for the patient, or the person who’s living at home,” McCaffrey said. “So the idea now is that you don’t have to wear all these devices. I encourage the room and the folks at CES to rise to the occasion of providing a user experience where you don’t have to open up 20 apps to make a health decision for that day.”

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