Early 2011 was prolific for published studies. If you print all these, it's gonna get expensive. Click on the Trends link on this site and you will be awed and/or inspired -- nine studies have been posted since the start of this year, three on mobile devices and health. The lemming effect is surely in play here: so much interest (not to mention conferences), so many apps in the iTunes App Store -- oh wait, in the top 10, we have a white noise generator and 3 weight-loss apps -- and further down the list, more white noise generators, apps for runners, baby names, mood tracking and apps about quite a few other bodily functions -- to say that the list is broadly inclusive as 'Healthcare & Fitness' is to understate.
Older adults -- is this a non-trendy trend? So as not to be outdone by the groundswell of enthusiasm about mobile 'health' technology, AARP published a report: "Health and Caregiving among the 50+: Ownership, Use and Interest in Mobile Technology". The MIT Enterprise Forum published "Boomers, Technology & Health: Consumers Take Charge." And let's not forget the Pew Research report, Health Topics: 80% of Internet Users Look for Health Information Online."
MIT: Boomers will matter, telehealth hasn't reached the tipping point. The MIT report was published in conjunction with a seminar and panel discussions -- including speculation about when telehealth ("individual fitness monitors, personal emergency response systems, professional-to-professional audio-visual conferencing and diagnostic systems, and home health chronic disease monitors") would be fully adopted -- one of the pioneers, VA's Adam Darkins, offered the believable assertion that broad adoption was likely dependent on adoption of electronic heatlh records, and estimates from the panelists ranged up to ten years from now.
AARP: Boomers and seniors are interested in mobile health tech, but not using now. Only 11% of the respondents (age 50+) in the AARP report are using mobile tech to track their health -- although 42% are somewhat or very interested. Just wait til they see the iTunes store's list of apps! But 56% are cool to the idea of sending data to a health care professional, 63% aren't interested in letting people know their location, and 69% are not so interested in using their phones to motivate healthy behaviors. Wait, there's more -- 73% said no to getting text-messaging health tips. And no, they aren't using their cell phones in caregiving either -- only 3% said they did -- and 61% said they are not interested.
Pew -- not using mobile health tech, but interested in online health info. Older adults are not using their cell phones to look for health information (6% of those 50-64, 5% of those 65+). This doesn't mean that older adults aren't looking for health information online -- 58% of those age 50-64 and 29% of those 65+ apparently are. Pew Research then asked WebMD (see NYTimes critique of this ad-ridden site for hypochondriacs) to provide the top topic lists (shingles, gallbladder, gout) and treatment-related words (pain relievers, anti-depressants, blood pressure meds) that users of that site query -- unfortunately, not distributed by age.
A non-trend for older adults. After reading these reports, it is safe to say that older adults are not mobile Health prospects (as the iTunes store popular topic list would clearly confirm); that 'telehealth' and its synonym-and-sub-topic tipping points are a long ways out for all, not just boomers and beyond; that those age 65+ are not yet dependent on the Internet for health guidance; and that older adults don't see the relationship between caregiving and having a mobile device. (This is confirmed by the National Alliance for Caregiving Study).
So what's the barrier to greater adoption? Are devices limiting interest or is lack of interest limiting improvements in devices and apps? In another recent Pew report, Generations and their Gadgets, this may be the last year that fewer than half (48%) of the age 75+ population report not having a cell phone. While Pew has reported on the interest level of chronic disease sufferers in Internet health information in the past, the current report does not compare responses among older responders. Could Pew and AARP do more analysis about changes in interest level, topic and treatment inquiries over time? Could smart phones like BlackBerry, iPhone, Android variants be separated out by Pew (as the AARP study does) from 'dumb' (aka feature) phones to detect the point at which applications that are viewable on a PC or iPad might also be useful to older adult mobile users?
And finally, let's suggest to the Washington-based AARP and Pew Research that they call a meeting and plan research schedules so that their overlapping topic reports might not be so overlapping in terms of time period? And to all who are funded to survey the 50+ population, please survey enough of those age 70+ to merit sub-segmentations, rather than lumping responders from 4+ decades into one demographic group -- which is near-meaningless today. Oh, and one other thing -- the fastest-growing demographic is the 85+.