September 17, 2013

This is CHMP’s third blog post adding to the public conversation during National Health IT Week  9/16-9/20/13  #NHITweek 

 

6062248667_9ddfb91da2Are older adults ready to embrace health technology?

According to a recent study in the Journal of Gerontological Nursing, they’re not only ready, but eager to do so.

This small study looked at how seniors view technology and how that influences adoption of new tools or concepts. That view is affected by the senior’s life course — the time and place he or she grew up, as well as the main factors of the diffusion of innovations theory. Essentially, if seniors think the technology will help them, can test it out, find it relatively simple to use, feel it aligns with their needs and values, and can see tangible benefits, they will use it. *For the purposes of this study, “technology” generally encompassed computers, cell phones, and basic health IT, such as remote monitoring.*

A series of focus groups found that older adults are justifiably concerned about issues like privacy, user-friendliness, training and available support. Seniors also said that they are often frustrated with current technology, perceiving it as “overly complicated and cumbersome to use and learn.”

Another theme which emerged from these focus groups is how technology can help to maintain or improve physical and mental capabilities. Games, puzzles and competitions were cited as types of activities these seniors enjoyed and use to help keep their minds sharp.

Researchers found strong support for tele-health use for routine medical care – especially among those living in rural areas. Many study participants already connect with health providers remotely. Less need to travel to major hubs and more efficient services were cited as key benefits. The study also revealed that seniors lack awareness of the health benefits of many current technologies. They were also critical of current technology design – from online gaming to cell phones – which fails to account for older adults’ preferences and perceptions. In one discussion, participants pointed to cell phones as overly complex and visually challenging; most only wanted them for making phone calls.

Importantly, researchers confirmed that older adults want to learn more about technology and how it can help them maintain independence and quality of life. While the majority of participants were unaware of the wide range of existing technology to address their health needs, most said they would be very willing to learn if it helped them to maintain mental and physical health. They also suggested that developers give more consideration to older adults by making hardware and software more user-friendly to facilitate adoption.

This cohort provided strong qualitative evidence that older adults generally respond positively to technology. Larger studies, quantitative data, and more detailed analysis of senior-specific tech is needed to truly understand older adults’ needs and overcome real or perceived barriers.

The easier we make it for older adults to adopt emerging health technologies, the more likely it is that many seniors will be able to age in place longer, enhance their social connections, and maintain a good quality of life.