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Pew induces chest pains in the body of the health tech market

Now we know. Although older adults track health indicators, they are not using any app or tech tool. Further, only 21% of all health trackers, mostly young folk, do so with an app -- but note app participation of only 3% of those aged 50-64 and 1% of those aged 65+.  So sayeth Pew Research in their Tracking for Health survey that was published in January – and enough 'quantified self' hysteria followed that the detailed demographics were obligingly published by Pew last week.  

It’s my data and I’ll do what I want with it. So it turns out (thankfully post-CES) that just because you build the device, app, or service, the Digital Health market may not have soared just yet.  Or maybe with its corresponding over hype, it actually soured. Perhaps there is no guarantee of tech adoption, even if they download it. And if they download it, a) will they track it and b) will they tell anyone? Perhaps the Digital Health tracking tech market will stall in an unsorted pile of unshared notes and yellowing gym logs? Yet – per Pew: "60% of U.S. adults say they track their weight, diet, or exercise routine. And 33% of U.S. adults track health indicators or symptoms, like blood pressure, blood sugar, headaches, or sleep patterns." So data is known, perhaps even recorded manually, thus the digital health (and its other wireless aliases) market and permutations may not be an instant hit -- rather, they may fit neatly into the evolutionary timeline of adoption ever since IBM launched the PC.

Convenience, cost, capability and access drive tech adoption, regardless of category.  Over the history of tech adoption – think online and mobile banking, online travel, shopping or self-diagnosis of health symptoms – we consumers tend to adopt technologies that offer us convenience, lower cost, capability or access to a network of people, products or services. And we do see the benefit of news and product search sites, because with our search tools, these sites are telling us something we didn’t already know.  But where does tracking of our blood pressure or other health indicators fit into the convenience, cost, capability or access rationales for technology use? And can that tracking be monetized?

Concerns about privacy and sharing have not been addressed. HIPAA hoopla, misguided, misinterpreted and so often a barrier to useful sharing of records with family members, has also created a provider fear of some sort of regulatory violation.  But perhaps as a side effect of provider paranoia, we have cultivated a societal justified paranoia about health information sharing. And real-world incidents and problems further fuel our fear of placing data where insurers, employers, marketers or family can use or misuse. That fear is well-founded – search Google for 'patient records lost', read the list of incidents and rightfully worry.  What should be shared isn’t and what is believed to be secure has been inadvertently lost. That makes the transmittal and storage of our biometric data an unproven experiment, to be kept within our own homes, perhaps recorded on our own computers and not-so-smart phones, to be shared when we feel the time is right – which, apparently, is not just yet.


I suspect one other factor plays into this: the investment of time and energy it takes to learn something new compared with the perceived benefit of learning it. Most seniors learn new gadgetry more slowly and with more effort than millenials. It's worth it when the benefit is frequent pictures or messages from the grandkids, or driving to a new location without getting lost, but to save the time it takes to record a blood pressure reading? Maybe not. We all do an informal, nonscientific cost-benefit analysis before we jump into a new gadget or app. Maybe the benefits don't seem worthwhile compared with the commitment of time and money to make it work. Thoughts?

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