mHealth: How are we going to ensure people aren’t left behind because they don’t use mobile?

Alan Portela, CEO, Airstrip Technology, makes some great points in this “Mobile Medical App Entrepreneurs: Changing the Face of Health Care” Health and Technology hearing but a question from Congresswoman Janice Hahn in the wrap up really struck me as it’s critical to conversations about mHealth and I don’t think it could’ve been properly answered with the meeting focus and in the limited time available:

56% of US adults own a smartphone but that still leaves a lot of people – about 132 million in this country that won’t be able to access your applications because they don’t have a smartphone. I know in the district I represent in Los Angeles is a poor minority district and a lot of those folks can’t afford a smartphone. How do we embrace this, help you succeed, try to support you and how do we not leave behind 132 million Americans who by the way are probably the ones that have the medical conditions that would need this type of help with their healthcare in general – which would save money and be more efficient – how do we not leave them behind? …even when you look at for instance AARP magazine – I’m a member I’m not embarrassed – their advertisings are for the Jitterbug right? So our senior population is not adopting this, maybe the younger people are clearly, but the seniors and particularly those that are disadvantaged are really considering this (the smartphone) to be probably a luxury that they can’t afford so I hope we can figure out a way to not leave that many Americans behind as we embrace this new technology

Janice Hahn mHealth

My thoughts;

1) We shouldn’t let Patients access to Smartphones discourage us from providing healthcare professionals with these tools. Healthcare professionals are ahead of their employers when it comes to adoption of mHealth tech and a great example of how this can be put to use would be with Airstrip technologies work saving lives by reducing the time to treat a Patient (by putting specialist medical expertise in the hand of a fireman or paramedic).

2) I don’t put too much weight on Pew Research numbers. Not everyone is aware that they’ve got a smartphone and there are lots of advanced mHealth services you can avail of with just a basic mobile phone that these statistics ignore eg. 911 operators can use a database system that links EHRs to Caller IDs so for example when a Patient calls them from their registered mobile number they know they are being called by a Patient with a speech impediment, who is disabled, has flammable gas stored in their home as part of their COPD care program, etc, etc.

Similarly emergency services can introduce mobile data services eg. like the SMS access to 911 services that have been so successful in the UK, or location based SMS alerts (like those deployed during Superstorm Sandy), mobile connected smoke sensors, etc.

3) Adoption of Mobile by senior citizens is key to the mHealth market reaching it’s potential (something I talked about at the Senior Mobile Conference in London back in 2010) and the US Government needs to create programs that will mobilise senior citizens so that administration can be made more efficient and the lives of seniors can be improved.

There are great lessons to be had from Japan – the world’s most senior market – where they have senior day (where adults gift their grandparents smartphones) and the value of this leadership during the Tsunami was incredible eg. they could reallocate the voice networks for emergency rescue personnel without a massive disruption of communication for seniors (because 80%+ of senior citizens in Japan already use mobile data services).

Obviously there is also plenty of commercial incentive for this to happen eg. seniors are the future growth opportunity for smartphone brands and the mobile industry because despite their affluence (citizens aged 50+ in western markets own 80% of global wealth) this group of consumers still represent one of the lowest spending mobile user groups.

4) We need to appreciate that change in Mobile (the newest Trillion dollar industry) is faster than most of us can comprehend and this means that even those of us who only use very basic easy to use mobiles are already using Smartphones. I expand on this in this point by point comparison of the features on my first proper (and very expensive) Smartphone (a Nokia 9100 Communicator) with the latest EasyPhone (3G Doro PhoneEasy 615).

It’s not up for dispute: If you’ve used a cameraphone, sent a picture message, set an alarm/calendar, used the calculator, made a video call that’s a smartphone app that the manufacturers of mobile phones have already baked into your familiar mobile in the same way that the native features you will find on a super smart new Smartphone like the Samsung Galaxy S4 (like temperature, humidity, pedometer, 13 megapixel camera, A-GPS, 3G, WiFi, etc) will be native on cheap easy to use senior phones by 2017.

5) Governments need to prioritise efforts to not leave senior citizens behind. There is an abundance of opportunities for legislation that would drive the mHealth market and add value to the lives of seniors eg. mandate that sheltered housing or homes rented to seniors feature connected smoke alarms, care monitors, etc and that emergency services are provisioned to support these mHealth technologies.

6) The AARP need to start getting their strategy for mobile clear. First port of call should be Congresswoman Hahn’s office so they can show her the smartphone device they are bringing to market with Samsung and discuss the strategies they’ve got for increasing mobile adoption amongst US seniors. But we should never ignore our own responsibilities to help encourage seniors to go mobile:

> Here’s a few tips on how to get a senior texting that you might find helpful

> Why smartphones? Because seniors just don’t want a CellPhone

> If “Loneliness is ‘deadly for the elderly” isn’t it time we recognised the life saving potential of SMS?

> Another very tragic reason to teach your loved ones how to send SMS

> Neil Versel: “I can’t imagine my 93-year-old grandmother ever having a smartphone”

> Several more very good reasons why you should help the seniors you care for join the mobile generation

The technology is here all we now need is your creativity…

A personalised casing on a seniors mobile

About David Doherty
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1 Response to mHealth: How are we going to ensure people aren’t left behind because they don’t use mobile?

  1. Pingback: The value of the Internet for seniors isn’t in booking a Doctors appointment – but it might be in avoiding the need for one OR actually having one… | mHealth Insight: the blog of 3G Doctor

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