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HOI research | Bridging the digital divide: overcoming barriers to digital health platforms for the elderly

As the world becomes increasingly digital, the elderly often find themselves left behind, struggling to navigate the complexities of digital health platforms. This article explores a recent study that identifies the key barriers preventing the elderly from adopting and using digital health platforms and suggests ways to overcome these obstacles.

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Digital health platforms: The key to inclusive healthcare?

The digital divide: A barrier to healthcare

Digital health platforms (DHPs) have the potential to revolutionize healthcare, making it more accessible and efficient. However, these platforms are predominantly used by younger generations, creating a "digital divide" between them and the elderly. This divide is particularly concerning given that the elderly often require regular health consultations. The study aims to identify the barriers that prevent the elderly from adopting and using DHPs and suggests ways to facilitate their increased adoption and usage.

The barriers to adoption and usage

The study identifies three key barriers to the initial adoption of DHPs by the elderly:

  1. Uncertainty about whether ‘good’ care can be delivered digitally and the technological equipment required: The elderly often doubt their symptoms and problems will be evident to personnel via remote meetings or chat and fear inaccurate medical diagnoses. This can prevent them from adopting digital health platforms.
  2. Lack of trust in handling of data and viruses: The elderly distrust the data security and privacy of digital health platforms, which can inhibit both their initial adoption and subsequent usage.
  3. Cost for the individual and society: The elderly fear that the use of digital services provided by privately run platforms may drain the public system of resources. The (feared) cost of associated equipment for the individual can also be a barrier for the elderly.

Overcoming the barriers: A path forward

The study suggests several ways to overcome these barriers and facilitate the adoption and usage of DHPs by the elderly. These include:

  1. Proactive application development: Designing digital health platforms that are easy to use and understand can help alleviate technology anxiety among the elderly. This includes creating easily understood payment models helping the elderly to understand how much the services cost them as private individuals. It also includes the design of services that provide a sense of continuity (e.g., providing a connection with the same health professional on the ‘other side’ over time rather than several different ones).
  2. Education activities: Providing training and education about digital health platforms can help the elderly feel more comfortable and confident in using these technologies. This includes information about the role of digital health platforms in relation to the larger public health care system.
  3. Addressing trust issues: Ensuring data security and privacy can help build trust among the elderly, encouraging them to adopt and use digital health platforms. How are cybersecurity threats identified and dealt with?

Meet the researchers

The research was conducted by a team of experts from various institutions:

  • Johan Frishammar, Entrepreneurship & Innovation, Luleå University of Technology
  • Anna Essén, House of Innovation, Stockholm School of Economics
  • Frida Bergström, Management consultant, KPMG
  • Tilda Ekman, Avery Dennison, South Holland
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