Usability Standards for Designing Mobile Health Apps for Aging Populations

Sep 01, 2016

Seniors are a fast growing segment of the population. They also consumer medical services at a disproportionate rate compared to those under 65. In a study published in JAMA from Partners HealthCare, seniors used technology, such as cell phones, computers and the internet, at a significant rate, but significantly fewer used digital health technology; for instance, only 10% filled prescriptions online. The average age of digital health technology users was lower (72 years old) than the non-users (76). The conclusion is that this technology is not reaching most seniors and is related to disparities. They recommended that, “innovations should focus on usability, adherence, and scalability…”

Of course, if the tools are not available (such as online refills) or seniors are not made aware of their availability, low utilization will continue. But as noted, usability also plays a role. So how is design of mobile health tools different for seniors? Sight and hearing naturally decline with age, so tech designers must take this into account. Tech designers much also understand  preferred means of communications for seniors, and that  personal health or mobile programs recommended by a physician are more likely to be used –an especially important factor in medication adherence tools.

Currently, wearables are not commonly used by seniors yet there is potential for greater use if they are designed to be readable, function without tiny buttons or controls and meet specific needs of aging populations.