According to current research from the National Library of Medicine, medical care accounts for 10 to 20% of the modifiable factors to population health outcomes. Social determinants of health account for the vast majority of the contributors (80 to 90 percent) (SDoH). According to WHO, the distribution of money, power, and resources at the global, national, and local levels shapes these aspects, including access to transportation and food security.
We also know that having access to technology and reliable information is crucial to making healthy decisions and, more recently, accessing care, and that it should be recognised as such. During the epidemic, concerns connected to technology — from access to trust — are likely to have had a life-changing impact on communities across the country, particularly among seniors and minorities.
This technological divide isn't a "future challenge": it's widening on a daily basis and requires equal parts empathy and urgency to close.
Close your eyes and imagine an elderly relative who isn't tech savvy. Consider how they'd feel if they needed urgent care and you weren't available, and someone they didn't know was calling to tell them to "jump on a Zoom call with the on-call physician." They'd probably be frustrated, intimidated, or even enraged.
Navigating our technology-dependent health systems can be scary and burdensome for seniors without a family advocate. Our seniors may feel lonely, disregarded, misunderstood, and, in many cases, disenfranchised in how to effectively manage their own care when communicating through digital platforms.
There are two growing reasons for us to feel more compelled to act.
First and foremost, we have a significant backlog. Covid-19 has resulted in an extraordinary backlog of postponed operations and treatments, which now take precedence over routine check-ups and follow-up appointments. For example, a young mother's postponed breast cancer surgery is likely to take precedence over an older patient's oncologist follow-up visit. Delayed treatment has a cascading effect on everyone, especially elderly, who require more monitoring and care even when they are healthy. Digital health may be a powerful weapon in the armoury of our nation's providers, who are working overtime to catch up, but only if they use it correctly.
Second, the supply and demand for specialists are inverted. We simply lack the manpower to meet with everyone individually. The number of people over the age of 65 in the United States is at an all-time high. This population increased by 73 percent from 41 million in 2011 to 71 million in 2019.
So, what are our options? I propose that solutions that go beyond an internet connection and a screen include four priorities.
Empathize is the first priority.
To close the technology divide, elders must be placed at the centre of care. The individual journey, like UX and UI design, must begin from the standpoint of the senior. The journey must be free of assumptions and reflect the emotional and physical difficulties that some elders face in seeking and receiving care.
Priority 2: Prepare
To overcome their fear of technology, seniors must be provided with tools, training, and access. It entails pushing for extra benefits that make iPads, cellphones, and other connected devices more affordable while also providing the gear and training that seniors require to become self-sufficient and confident users.
Priority 3: Educate
At the core of any solution should be reliable information and education. It is vital to take the time to assess and give data-based information that assists elders in navigating their care.
Empowerment is the fourth priority
The final, but crucial, stage is to empower both seniors and their caregivers. This includes giving caregivers and care teams with meaningful health data that allows them to notice trends, make real-time care decisions that improve outcomes every day, and even predict the need for health treatments.