Thursday, 14 February 2013

Is population ageing going to drive healthcare disruption?

It is interesting to see how quickly things are changing in the mobile health arena. About 2 years ago I did a study on barriers to wider Telehealth adoption among older people, where I interviewed different stakeholders to gather their perspectives on the subject. At the time, I focused mainly on vital signs monitoring technologies and I remember some of the interviewees saying that they didn't believe such disruption to the healthcare sector could take place without a whole healthcare system approach, ideally lead by the government. Others (mainly doctors) said they couldn't imagine people being interested in monitoring and tracking their vital signs, especially older people who "don't deal very well with technology". On the other hand, the potential consumers I spoke to (who, by the way, were between 50-70 years old) said they could see clear benefits in having a piece of technology that could keep track of "how well they were doing" and that this would possibly encourage them to remain compliant with their health plans. They added that they would prefer if Telehealth systems could run on their own mobile devices (I know it is chocking, but at that time mobile health was still in its infancy and Telehealth was in its majority provided through specifically designed hardware!). Two years ago, trends already pointed to the growth of the mobile health market, which led me to suggest that, in the short-term, healthcare disruption could be driven by a consumer market, rather than government / healthcare professional-led initiatives.

I still believe that a consumer-led disruption to healthcare is not that far away. Think about the variety of self-tracking devices launched early this year at the Consumer Electronics Show, for example. Among them were products that allow you to monitor your activity levels, heart rate, blood sugar, stress levels, dental hygiene and even how fast you eat, all through very stylish and discreet gadgets that connect wirelessly with your mobile phone, tablet or laptop. That gives you a hint of how much companies are betting on the growth of consumer demand for such products. 

And consumers are responding accordingly. The use of health apps that allow self-tracking of health related habits is growing exponentially. A recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center showed that many of those who adopted health tracking feel it has changed their overall approach to healthcare, with many reporting this has led them to ask their doctors new questions, seek a second opinion or in some way influenced their treatment decisions. I believe that this change in attitude will sooner or later start to influence how older people approach their health care, and given the fast pace of population ageing around the world, healthcare disruption is something we will warmly welcome in the near future. 

Brenda Reginatto

1 comment:

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