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Boomers and adoption of mobile health -- not so fast

Let's start at the conclusion -- the hype hasn't produced health for boomers.  The new California Health Care Foundation sponsored boomer health tech report is out.  First the bad news. Baby boomers (aged 50-69 in 2015) aren't getting the health innovation investment money's worth, though the spigot is wide open for digital health funding.  Which is odd because they represent the single largest cohort that generates health cost, possibly as a result of their more sedentary lifestyle, compared to the previous generations.  Health care costs are often described in the press as going down, but really only the rate of increase is slowing – according to PwC, the growth rate still outpaces inflation.

Even if boomers wanted to buy into new health offerings, designers ignore them.  Consider the activity tracker test sponsored by AARP/Catalyst – the average age of participants was 65. According to the report, participants thought that the packaging was perplexing, directions were unclear, the procedure for syncing the sensors was not obvious.  But that’s okay, because the product designers didn’t care about them as a target market in the first place.  And true to their predictive marketing skills, boomers didn’t buy them. The wearables market may have peaked (with or without boomers). So far, boomers are  not charmed by all-too-smart and none-too-secure watches.

But movement toward mobile technologies is inexorable. Why? Because the healthcare industry, particularly providers andinsurers, can make it so.  Mobile apps are part of the ‘substitution’ strategy in play in the healthcare industry for some time – remote consultation businesses are on the rise again, expected to reach 158 million video visits by 2020.  But it is a relatively short hop from video consultation to self-diagnosis, self-care, monitoring (and recording) your own symptoms in the privacy of your own home.   

For mobile and wearable health work for boomers, designers must do some work.  First and foremost, include them in the design process – so many ways – through AARP, through UC Berkeley’s CITRIS, through QoLT at CMU, through the new Philips-MIT research center, and through Stanford.  Note that boomers will become seniors – these research organizations take the long view in design. Watch for incentives to push telehealth for Medicare recipients.  And for the sake of all, read about predictive analytics and get your devices’ data ready for integration. Philips’ CareSage is interesting. But consider – it’s feasible to link device data with a different company’s data.  Let’s do it before all of the boomers become seniors.



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