When a venture capitalist suggested that digital health will not get traction until millennials are old and sick, the backlash was swift.
But think about it. The real economic impact of health care technology comes from improving outcomes and reducing cost in the health care system. Older adults drive the bulk of health care system costs. Assuming today’s older
population is not filled with early adopters—a safe assumption—traction in the information technology (IT) field will not occur until an older population has grown up with smartphones, apps, and wearables.
This hypothesis sounds reasonable, but it is skewed. It warrants a look at the other side of the solution: creating health solutions for today’s older population instead of the next generation of seniors. If IT companies want to make an impact on the health care system in the next five to 10 years instead of designing solutions that won’t get traction until the next generation of seniors, a different approach is needed that focuses on simplicity and service instead of complexity and a do-it-yourself mentality.
Here are six keys to success in building technology solutions that can provide support for both long term and post-acute care—not only improving care for seniors today, but also curbing the number of preventable readmissions.

1. Don’t think one can win with apps alone.

Only 18 percent of Americans over 65 carry a smartphone, according to 2013 Pew Research data (and only 18 percent own a tablet). Research suggests that most of that adoption is occurring in the most active and healthy segments of seniors. Those that actually need digital health support the most are not adopting smartphones or tablets quickly.
Additionally, a large segment of older adults with smartphones find it challenging to download an app or pair Bluetooth health devices. To make an impact today, don’t assume that a patient can just download an app; devices need to be placed in their hands and their use properly demonstrated.

2. Solve the adoption problem with simplicity and service.

IT solutions need to work out of the box with minimal setup. Well-trained, patient, compassionate people ready to help the customers are also needed. Don’t over-engineer solutions that drive up cost for features that will never be used and increase complexity. Only  one chance may be given to gain adoption, so make sure every barrier has been scrutinized and minimized.
For example, only 47 percent of the 65 and over population has broadband at home, so built-in wireless connectivity can double the addressable market. If companies are providing technology support for a patient to take with him or her to a post-acute care setting, it should be easy to integrate into the existing systems. Ideally, it should also be easy for the patient’s family to understand so they have peace of mind during emotionally difficult times.

3. Focus on problems and tangible solutions, not technology.

Unlike millennials, the majority of older adults today don’t adopt technology because it is new and cool. If older consumers or patients are asked if they are interested in a new piece of technology, the answer will be no. Instead, speak to them about a problem and present a viable solution that solves that problem or makes their life easier—the answer will change.

4. Engage the family caregivers along with the nursing team.

A recent Rand study concluded that “family caregiving” in the United States costs $522 billion per year. Technology can help improve the productivity and effectiveness of caregivers. The family caregiver will play a role in any long term care situation, from providing decision support to coordinating the health care and living decisions for their aging parent. Training and communication should involve the entire team.

5. Use the direct-to-consumer approach while health care channels are developing.

It is no secret that digital health solutions are stuck in “pilot mode” in many health care channels. While IT companies wait for reimbursement, the growing number of patients, caregivers, and aging Americans with problems that need solutions would often rather pay for the right digital health solutions that would enable them to take charge of their recovery or be safer as they heal.

6. Understand that primary demand will need to be driven through awareness and education.

The health tech market for older adults in long term and post-acute care situations is still in its infancy. Companies are not benefiting from “secondary demand”; they must drive “primary demand” for these solutions.

Family caregivers are not deciding on their own that they need technology to help their aging parent stay safe and healthy in post-acute care. Companies need to inform them that technology exists that can help them worry less and feel more in control as a caregiver.

Simple, cost-effective solutions that solve real problems by allowing seniors to receive continuing care in their own homes while sustaining appropriate activity levels will drive awareness and adoption.

In-home connected health devices for chronic disease management, independent aging, and health and wellness will continue to grow and bring value as the baby boomer generation hits 65. Devices to track medication management, glucose monitoring for diabetes, scales to track weight, blood pressure cuffs for at-risk cardiac patients, and GPS to address Alzheimer’s wandering activity are all gaining traction.

Yes, “smart” technology will lead the way to reducing readmissions, reducing cost of care, and proactively managing health and wellness. The underlying key is that smart technologists developing the smart technology just need to be smart enough to keep it simple.
David Inns is chief executive officer and a member of the board of directors of GreatCall, www.greatcall.com. GreatCall has expanded into digital health services for seniors, ranging from telehealth to medication adherence to emergency response service to apps that help family caregivers stay more involved in the “independent aging” process.