The elderly and new technology may not always seem to get along, but in the medical world they have to. Technological advancements are happening every day and many deal with the elderly. In this guest post, Blake Marggraff, CEO of a company that offers interventions using automated phone calls or text messages to manage patients’ conditions, reveals how to engage older patients with new technology and overcome the barriers unique to them.
New technology has changed the face of medical care and will continue to do so. Progress in caring for the elderly is relatively slow, though, as a result of several obstacles unique to dealing with older patients. Some concerns include:
- Initial patient consent. The paradox of the older patient populations is they desire, and even demand, to remain in their homes. Problem is, many of them resist innovations that make in-home care possible.
Assistive technologies that can track chronic diseases and associated symptomatologies or can automatically alert providers to changes in a patient’s health are vital to effective home care. But the status quo is, understandably, more comfortable. So a patient might reject a new technology, because he’s perfectly happy with everything as it is or because the technology seems like a lot of work.
- Engaging the caregiver. The provider-to-patient feedback loop sounds like a two-party system, but for elderly patients, a concerned caregiver is often a crucial player. Any protocol or software that doesn’t account for the caregiver’s role may create more problems than solutions.
For instance, protocol might dictate that a nurse follows up periodically with an older patient after a major surgery. But what if the patient doesn’t answer the phone or return the nurse’s emails? If the nurse contacts the caregiver as protocol, too, then the caregiver could note that the patient’s lack of a computer and difficulty standing and moving to the phone prohibits communication.
- Provider barriers. The idea exists that introducing older patients to new technology is more trouble than it is worth – and that information technology therefore should play a limited role.
The resistance can be felt both inside and outside the doctor’s office. Some medical offices, for example, may collectively agree that electronic medical records have made staff spend more time supporting the technology than supporting patients.
The obstacles confronting technological advancement in elderly care aren’t insurmountable. First, we must embrace the fact that older patients aren’t inherently bad with technology; they’re bad at using bad technology.
From health technology startups to large established systems, the winners emphasize research and data above all else. They make sure patients and providers stay engaged with a specific solution, whether it’s a mobile app or a hands-on disease management protocol.
To make digital health tools more appealing to medical experts, make the tools align with workflows. Patient monitoring and population management tools should give providers the most pertinent information at the right times. Good technology and products help patients feel connected and safe, and they provide a sense of empowerment to even the most overworked providers.
Involving patients in product development might sound obvious, but many providers assume they understand their patient populations well enough not to include them. That omission can result in technology designers developing aspects of a product in a vacuum – an avoidable mistake. If the technology is designed in isolation, then it doesn’t stand a chance of approval by either patients or providers and will thus be ineffective.
Engaging older patients
No matter how hard it may seem, you can engage older patients with new, useful technology by following a few important principles.
- Quantify real value. Analyze a potential purchase’s benefits, including time savings, value-based economic gains, or the advantages it would afford medical staff members and patients.
Vet all new solutions, technologies and processes by demanding a hard return on investment. (If working with a third-party vendor, request that the vendor assemble ROI and explain the calculations.)
- Train the trainers. The care provider is only as effective as his or her understanding of the solution. Many providers don’t dedicate the time or define the procedures to effectively train employees. Any vendor-provided technology solution should include good training. Customer-centric companies often prepare instructional videos and graphical materials to facilitate employee training.
- Involve “boots on the ground” providers. The providers who are the face of elderly care should be intimately involved in the purchasing decisions. Ask for volunteers to pilot the new technique or tool, and make sure physicians, nurses and case managers are all well-represented. Ideally, volunteer teams won’t skeptically view the decision to adopt a new solution, and will instead welcome and celebrate it.
The nature of medical technology is changing rapidly. Solutions like remote monitoring are vastly improving the quality of care we can provide, particularly to elderly patients. By improving the quality of the innovations we introduce and ensuring they actually work for providers and patients, we can overcome most of the barriers to engaging older patients with new technologies.
Blake Marggraff is CEO of Epharmix, a company that offers interventions using automated phone calls or text messages to manage patients’ conditions while collecting disease specific data.