News Feature | August 18, 2016

Low Income Patients, Seniors, Not Using Digital Health

Katie Wike

By Katie Wike, contributing writer

EHRs With Clinical Decision Support Provide Better Care

According to two recent studies, certain populations are not being reached by digital health including senior citizens and low income patients.

Digital health tools are effective, but only if they reach populations that need them. According to one recent study, seniors are not accessing the tools that could help them and, according to another report, low income patients aren’t using digital health tools to manage their conditions either.

“Mobile applications, or apps, have the potential to help patients with diabetes and other chronic conditions manage their health better. But as currently designed, health apps can present challenges to the vulnerable populations who would likely benefit the most, including the poor and patients with low levels of health literacy,” explained the Commonwealth Fund study.

This study notes chronic conditions such as diabetes and depression often require close monitoring of symptoms and making changes to diet, exercise, and medication — all of which an app could aid in. However, low-income patients suffer disproportionately high rates of chronic disease and aren’t accessing the technology that they need.

MobiHealth News reports manual data entry led to many patients not being able to complete the tasks the app assigned. Also, patients were unable to receive data such as information about upcoming appointments. None of the apps had simple interfaces with large buttons and easy-to-follow instructions and navigation. Many of the apps lacked explanations of various functions as well.

Researchers identified three main themes from the answers they received: lack of confidence with technology, frustration with design features and navigation, and interest in having technology support their self-management. According to researchers, the bottom line is, “To reduce health disparities, app developers must ensure their products are tailored to the needs of the populations that are likely to benefit the most from their use.”

The other study, as Fierce Healthcare Mobile reports, found seniors were another vulnerable group of patients being left behind by technology. Seventy-six percent of the respondents used cellphones and 64 percent used computers in 2011, however only 16 percent obtained health information online. Few used digital health tools for other tasks:

  • 8 percent to fill prescriptions
  • 7 percent to contact clinicians
  • 5 percent to handle insurance claims

In 2011, 21 percent of the seniors interviewed used any digital health tool. In 2014, the number had only increased to 25 percent. “Digital health is not reaching most seniors and is associated with socioeconomic disparities, raising concern about its ability to improve quality, cost, and safety of their healthcare,” the authors wrote in a research letter for JAMA.