How Connected Health Apps Can Support Aging Populations

The amount of senior citizens in the U.S. who currently own smartphones is at 53%, up from 42% in 2017. Of senior smartphone users, 12% are smartphone dependent, meaning they rely on their smartphone for online access.

"The consumerization of all facets of life is changing the aging experience for many people,” said Rob Havasy, managing director of the Personal Connected Health Alliance and senior director of connected health at HIMSS. “Activities of daily living are more manageable because of technology, and even if individuals aren't strong technology users themselves, families and caregivers can use these tools to help extend a loved one's independence.” This way, the inability to get to a mailbox or drive a car can have less of an impact on whether or not an individual can maintain independence and their personal health, he explained.

“Technology is allowing for a completely different model to emerge, where you don’t have to go to a healthcare provider; you can be at home and see a physician using technology, or someone can come to your home once a week and help you,” said Rod Piechowski, MA, CPHIMS, vice president of thought advisory at HIMSS. “This is all part of that consumerization process; there will be more and more services that are available that you will have to choose from.”

Watch the American Medical Association's chief medical information officer talk with HIMSS TV about how to solve the connected care problem.

With the impending silver tsunami, the increasing connectivity enabled by technology can not only help an individual maintain their health and independence, but it can also help prevent overcrowding in healthcare facilities—many of which are not prepared to take in the amount of elderly patients that will need care and supervision in the coming years. As more people with chronic conditions come into the system than its infrastructure can handle, we need trust in digital tools and care teams, standards and strict criteria about evidence, shared Michael Hodgkins, MD, MPH, chief medical information officer with the American Medical Association.

Health apps are some of the most impactful forms of health innovation readily available to consumers today, both old and young. Here are just a few different aspects of health and wellness they can help maintain or improve:

  • Medication adherence. There are many mobile apps focused on helping individuals keep up with their daily medication routines. “[Some companies] are taking apps focused on medication adherence to a new level by providing dosage information and medication schedule support, even tracking data like pill colors and shapes for patient reference within the app,” said Julie Campbell, director of innovation consulting at Healthbox, a HIMSS Innovation Company. “Some mobile tracking apps also have features that can communicate to a patient’s friend or family member when the patient forgets or hasn’t indicated through the app that they took their last medication dose.”
  • Fitness tracking. Keeping track of individual wellness is key to preventing decline from aging, both mentally and physically. Today, there are an unprecedented amount of health apps focused on tracking nutrition, exercise routines and more. One app, for example, pairs with wearable gadgets and includes a built-in pedometer. Users can monitor time and distance during their exercise routines, and create reports with that data to share with their doctors and family members. The app can also provide personalized coaching to help reach fitness goals.
  • Pain management. To understand underlying causes of pain and to address those causes with the right solution, we need information. Health apps, like one that helps manage chronic pain, can provide support and compile information that will help inform doctors of the right treatment options. These apps track medication, side effects, pain symptoms and symptom triggers. They compile this information in downloadable reports with analytics charts that integrate with the decision-making workflows of pain management specialists, helping providers identify customized solutions based on an individual’s detailed health data.

Though there is still an imperative to expand access to broadband and telehealth services in many parts of the U.S. and other countries, a significant amount of senior citizens—as well as their families—have access to a variety of tools to stay empowered as healthcare consumers. With these advancements, the future of aging is becoming brighter than ever.

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