The headline for the HarrisInteractive/HealthDay mobile health (mHealth) survey reads, “Lots of Americans Want Health Care Via Their Smartphones.” But underneath that bullish forecast are statistics illustrating that the heaviest users of health care services in America — people 65 and over — have the least interest in mHealth tools.

Overall, 37% of U.S. adults are interested in managing health via smartphones or tablets: about 1 in 3 people. As the chart shows, the greatest interest in communicating with doctors via mobile phones and tablets is among people 25-49. Reminders to fill prescription and participate in wellness programs is also higher among younger adults.

When it comes to the health activities most common among people 65 and over — such as checking side effects of medications, reminders to refill and take medicines — interest in mobile tool support for these tasks is lowest among the oldest health consumers, at 28% (vs. 36% overall), 22% (vs. 31% overall), and 8% (vs. 24% overall), respectively.

The Harris/HealthDay findings are confirmed in another study by Flurry, a data analytics company, that found among iOS smartphone users (Apple phones), younger adults are the most keen on sports, health and fitness apps.

Health care tracking functions people are most keen about are:

  • Checking blood pressure, with 38% interested
  • Checking heart irregularities, 36%
  • Using an application to track health (e.g., diet, exercise), 34%
  • Photographing eye, cornea or retina to diagnose an eye problem, 32%
  • Checking blood sugar or glucose level, 32%
  • Measuring lung function, 29%.

Sports and health apps index younger Flurry June 2013Intriguingly, people who are currently taking a prescription medication for a chronic condition do not have a significantly higher level of interest in performing any of these functions compared to the general online population.

The online survey was conducted in May 2013 among 2,050 adults 18 and over.

Health Populi’s Hot Points:  With “patient engagement” the buzzword for 2013, the important finding here is that older people and those managing chronic conditions don’t have a greater interest in using mobile tools for self-care. Is this a chicken-and-egg problem? If interest in using mobile tools for health is a proxy for health engagement, then perhaps this is indeed a phenomenon of people less inclined to do self-care perpetuating ill health and “un-wellness.”

Looking at the second-oldest cohort of 50-64 — Boomers and middle-age adults — interest in health-engagement for self-tracking indexes much higher than among the 65+:

  • Checking blood pressure, 38% for 50-64 vs. 24% for 65+
  • Checking heart, 34% vs. 26%
  • Using an app to track health, 28% vs. 13%
  • Checking blood glucose, 30% vs. 21%
  • Measuring lung function, 29% vs. 19%.

Except for using apps to track health, the 50-64 year old cohort matches or comes within 1 percentage point of the overall population for these metrics.

Thus, online Boomers should be expected to take on self-tracking as they age as a natural progression of using mobile phones and tablets in everyday life.

Today, the big missing link here is bolstering older peoples’ adherence to prescription medications. Can mobile tools help older people stick to therapeutic prescription regimens? This is the challenge and opportunity for pharma and life science companies, community pharmacies, and innovative designers to address.

First Posted at Health Populi on 6/19/201


Jane Sarasohn-Kahn
Jane Sarasohn-Kahn, the founder of THINK-Health, is a health economist and advisor to organizations at the intersection of health, technology and people. The Health Populi blog, which Jane has written since 2007, provides engaging insights into health, technology, economics and people. Her venture, HealthcareDIY, is a portal to engage and inspire consumers in self-health: to eat right, shop smart, live well, and use technology to bolster health.


  1. Thanks for sharing the results of these two surveys with us, Jane. I’d like to suggest, however, that your Hot Point observations appear slightly skewed. For example, as a heart patient with ongoing cardiac issues, I now believe that it isn’t so much that “people less inclined to do self-care are perpetuating ill health and un-wellness”, but that it is the reality of being unwell in itself that lowers one’s inclination to use things like mobile tools to aid self-care.

    This is what Dr. Victor Montori and his Mayo Clinic-based team describe as “the burden of treatment”. Their innovative approach to what’s known as Minimally Disruptive Medicine takes a unique look at issues like non-compliance (a term that most of us patients find cringe-worthy, by the way). For example, their team considers that a patient’s education level, literacy, state of depression, pain, fatigue, social connectivity/supports, and financial status can affect a person’s capacity to do the work of being a patient trying to manage one or more chronic illness diagnoses. And this workload, according to Dr. Montori, can simply exceed the patient’s capacity to cope.

    People who do not know what it’s like to live every day with this “burden of treatment” often have a hard time comprehending the reality of chronic illness. They seem to believe that coming up with the Next Big Thing in technology or mobile apps or self-tracking devices or flashing pill bottle caps is all that’s needed to somehow miraculously solve compliance issues.

    This is because these people are living with “healthy privilege”, as Dr. Ann Becker-Schutte calls it. For example, she writes:

    “Healthy privilege allows healthy people to assume that their experience is ‘normal’, and to be unaware that coping strategies that work for them will NOT work for someone dealing with illness.”

    Such is the bliss – and ignorance – of healthy privilege. More on this at:


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