There are lies, damn lies and statistics. It is one of the reasons why it is so hard to get a straight answer to many different critical questions, that are essential to our day-to-day lives. Allow me please to quote one set of statistics from the following reference:

“67% of seniors want to access healthcare service from home, although 66 percent of seniors do not think current available technology is sufficient for them to do so”.

This data comes from a survey of seniors over the age of 65 who are receiving Medicare benefits, and who were interviewed between May and June 2014, i.e. recently.

From a business perspective this seems totally irrational. Clearly, the over 65 years group is aware of home-based healthcare services as being necessary and definitely desirable, but the same group is clearly unaware of recent technologies that would make telemedicine connectivity to their homes a reality. Any entrepreneur looking at this should immediately jump on the opportunity to begin providing such telemedicine services to the ever-growing elderly population. But for some reason, there remains a fundamental gap between the market  for these services and the provisioning of these services to the target audience.

It always fascinates me how an artificial number, 65, is the determinant of the person’s value to society. Somehow when a person turns 65, their collective knowledge transforms from being an asset to being some type of financial liability that needs to be stripped from a company that is seeking to increase its productivity and profitability.

I should take a moment and make one point extremely clear: it almost does not matter how much you pay an individual for whatever job they do. The question is what you get in return for that payment. So while a rookie who just graduated from his or her MBA might cost a fraction of a near-retirement business analyst, that business analyst could easily be worth many times more the rookie MBA. In fact, it is hard to believe how a senior analyst could not be worth so much more. If the older analyst really was not pulling his or her weight, you would have expected for him or her to have been let go at some earlier point.

I say all of this to make the point that the over 65 crowd is not a bunch of poorly educated, social-services dependent individuals. They are people with assets, knowledge, and an appreciation for value for their dollar – in other words, a discerning customer. As such, I would expect all of the medical services companies including, of late, Apple, to be falling over themselves to address this particular community.

Considering that those over the age of 65 will begin to use more and more health care services, it is critical to address this population in an intelligent and yes age-appropriate [not patronizing] way. 25% of seniors use an EMR portal to manage their health and this number is expected to grow to 42% in the next five years [I am quoting from the same article I referenced above]. Of those regularly using these digital portals, almost 60% use them to access lab results.

I don’t think you need to be a statistical genius or imbued with divine prophecy to recognize that the number of seniors using an EMR portal should reach nearly 100% in the next 10 to maximum 15 years. If the developers of these portals focus on design issues that make the interfaces more convenient for elderly patients, EMR portal use should become nearly universal far earlier.

I recently saw a phone geared towards elderly patients, whose primary characteristic was that every button and every number was markedly enlarged. The advertising for the device attempted to use endearing terms related to older individuals, which somehow came across as infantilizing. I am 52 years old  and I struggle with my vision, just as much as acquaintances of mine, who are over 65. Yet I use a standard Nexus 5 phone, and I do just fine.

When Apple just presented their new smart watch along with their new ResearchKit for doing clinical studies, I don’t remember part of the presentation being geared towards “Granny” who firstly, could not be expected to handle something as complicated as pressing a button, and secondly was assumed to be nearly blind. Considering how many elderly patients would be part of the kinds of studies that Apple is trying to promote, it actually seems quite interesting that no special feature exists for people over 65.

My simple point is the following: the aging population is a thriving, educated, interested, aware, capable group that very much wants to be part of the digital medical revolution. Any company or medical service that ignores this dynamic and often financially solvent population is effectively shooting itself in the foot. The time has come to embrace this population who grew up watching the (much funnier) “Lucy Show” rather than “Friends”. The rewards will be self-evident.

Thanks for listening

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