5 Trends to Watch in Digital Health for People Over 50

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Medical companies shouldn’t overlook older people when they design wearables or apps, according to new findings from AARP, the advocacy group for seniors.

Consumers 50 and over are moving away from traditional health care models that require face-to-face clinical appointments and extensive hospital tests, in favor of digital health care solutions like smart sensors and video appointments. AARP's revenue forecast for digital health care for the over-50 market is $34 Billion between 2015 and  2020.

Jody Holtzman, AARP's senior vice President for market innovation, spoke at this week's Digital Health Summer Summit, in downtown San Francisco. Here are five digital health trends he sees emerging in the over-50 market.

Trend No. 1: Ease of Hiring Caregivers 

Traditionally patients have contacted an agency to find a caregiver, but companies are disrupting this model by removing the middle man. A growing number of startups like Honor and CareLinx offer online marketplaces connecting patients directly with service providers.

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Trend No. 2: Technophobia Declines

The data shows older people are no longer resisting screens -- in fact they're adopting technology in increasing numbers. Pew Research Center reports 79 percent of people between 50 and 64 go online every day. The rate for people 65 and older is 71 percent. That's up from 58 percent in 2010.

Holtzman says pedometers, which measure the number of steps people take, have always been popular with the elderly, who are now adopting digital devices like Fitbits, Jawbones and Misfit Shines. The most successful products will be designed for those who have less than perfect vision, he says. Think user friendly products with big font and simple visuals.

Trend No. 3: Siri and Alexa are the Future

Even though older people are becoming more tech savvy, Holtzman says hands-free voice recognition devices like Apple’s Siri and Amazon Echo’s Alexa will be the real killer health apps for seniors.

“When you can just say, ‘Computer I took my medication,' or, ‘Computer order my meds.’ Imagine a day when you can order an autonomous vehicle that takes you to and from your doctor appointment. ... You are going to see exponential development and ease of use.”

Trend No. 4: Technology Plus Humans

Patient behavior is more likely to change if a human being is involved. Holtzman cites Omada Health’s diabetes management program, in which a patient receives a health coach who works in tandem with digital tracking systems like wireless scales, pedometers and apps to monitor diet, exercise and medicines. As the patient tracks daily habits, the coach offers support and recommendations.

Trend No. 5: Telemedicine 

An increasing number of physicians are offering patients remote care through online video appointments or email consultations. Not surprisingly, Holtzman predicts telemedicine will expand in rural communities and among patients who have physical limitations that make it difficult to travel.

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