In addition to teaching me how to operate a chainsaw and a sewing machine, my mother also taught me how to use an early Apple Macintosh computer. Around the mid-1980s she started bringing home her classroom unit for the summer, and eventually we had one permanently stationed in the living or dining room.
Today my mother has a Macbook, an iPhone and an iPad. While that’s perhaps a bit much for her needs (mostly emailing and surfing), they afford her independence and security. She may not know how use every app on her phone, or even what half of the functions are for, but it serves as a tool for everyday use, rather than just a $600 SMS device. If she needs to access or locate important information, she can.
The truth, however, is that most people her age are:
A) not nearly as comfortable with such devices
B) lack a basic understanding of them or
C) do not have access to them
My mother in law, for example, has never used the internet. She does not own a computer. Her telephone is a simplistic, large-button model that does nothing that a mobile phone could not do fifteen years ago. If she wants to investigate a health or medical issue, she has to rely on someone else—which involves travel, long queues, and service from harried and understaffed health care centers—rather than being able to do her own research or analyze her own medical records.
At MedEngine we believe the future of health care will be digitized. Condensing information, converting it to useful and integrable data, and designing more useful user interfaces would certainly enable people to be more in control of their health care experience. It will lower costs, take less time, and increase accessibility.
So how do we bridge the gap between my mother and my mother in law? How do we get enable elderly and/or inexperienced users so that they can comfortably access their health records on modern handheld device?
1. Give the devices texture
Most smart phones and tablets are thin, slick to the touch, and largely non-intuitive for those who grew up with knobs, handled, buttons and levers. And for a lot of elderly people with arthritic joints or deteriorating coordination skills (or even for younger people like myself who have damaged their joints through athletics), handling such a device can be difficult.
Aftermarket supports and handles would help said people manage their devices by providing texture and grip, intuitive hand placement, leverage, and also protection against drops, bumps and transport. It would be simple, affordable, and make the devices more like the tools they are used too.
2. Have kids teach their grandparents
Kids, who often seem disinterested in all things grandparent-related, thrive when it comes to electronics. They understand that modern mobile devices are less like books—browsed one page at a time—and more like a set of binoculars connected to a set of encyclopedias. Albeit, a living, evolving encyclopedia.
Pairing kids with their grandparents will help them connect, and kids’ enthusiasm and fearlessness will inspire older users to use their devices to their full potential.
3. Have health care centers offer mandatory training sessions
Pensioners have time, while health care centers are understaffed and overworked. Therefore, regularly scheduled and mandatory (say, twice per year) classes for users of mobile devices would teach pensioners how to do simple tasks such as access correspondence from doctors and health centers, review their records, provide feedback, and do further research. This will save time for both doctors, staff and patients alike, rather than having patients’ inquiries dealt with on a case-by-case basis. As well, bringing pensioners together for such sessions will help show that they’re not alone in their apprehension.
4. Branch out
Better yet, unite health care centers with libraries to combine resources and employ expert teachers. Libraries are in constant flux nowadays, seeking footing in an increasingly paperless world, and are always looking for innovative methods of information sharing and education. Pensioners without computers tend to frequent libraries quite often, and are the perfect target audience.
Local branches can provide resources and support beyond these educational sessions, and can even create a mobile device loan program for those who do not want or cannot afford a device. Long-term loans of one or two months would be best.
5. Integrate real-time tutorials with health care apps
Even though I’ve been using a computer for over three decades, I’m often still at a loss when I encounter some strange new portal that is devoid of instructions or an intuitive user interface. So imagine what it must be like for first-time users when they encounter even a most basic checkbox form or questionnaire. They probably need to make another doctor’s appointment after such stress and confusion!
Health care apps need to have explicit yet minimalistic instructions (due to space constraints) that pop up or appear on the margins in real time, such as Push this button to answer ‘yes’; Touch this box to choose a date; Write a message to your doctor here, then press ‘send.’ It may seem pandering, but it’s a risk worth taking for the sake of the health, safety and well-being of our parents.
These are all simple methods that would require only a bit of faith and experimentation. Yet, despite the pace at which information is conveyed, changes and developments in institutions are slower than ever. If they don’t adapt quickly, governments will be spending even more time and money catching up than if they had invested resources in the first place. We can’t wait for that moment. Instead, entrepreneurs, businesses, and free-thinkers will have to lead the way.