Seniors have the lowest reported usage of telehealth of any age group. As many healthcare providers are increasing the use of telehealth, especially in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the implementation of new tools and technologies could impact seniors.
In my experience, this doesn’t indicate that older adults aren’t tech-minded, or that they are not using tech products currently. In fact, studies show that seniors use smartphones at the same rate as younger groups. Over 80 percent of Americans age 50 to 64 have smartphones, according to the AARP.
But, to make sure we are designing telehealth products with all users in mind, we’ll need to gain additional perspective on why seniors aren’t accessing telehealth resources at the same rate as other age groups and how to reduce their barrier to entry. Many providers will continue to use telehealth once the pandemic has passed, so understanding the current barriers to use for seniors, is important.
How can UI/UX design and technology help?
1. Enable Accessibility Feature on Devices – This is an easy fix. Most mobile devices have the ability to enable certain features for accessibility. Apple Accessibility Features are readily available for user settings, such as Display Accommodations for vision, General display accessibility for text size and boldness, Speech, and Magnifier and Live Listen.
2. Use Push Notifications and Alerts – This stimulates user engagement with simple reminders and improved engagement with users. These notifications are great to help the user take action on pressing medical issues or now about important information. Here’s one example, auto-reminder text: “It’s time to schedule your physical therapy appointment. The next appointment is Tuesday at 1 p.m. Would you like to schedule your appointment? Yes or No”
3. Limit the Need to Continuously Browse – Keep navigation simple by limiting the user’s ability to browse without guidance, reducing distractions, and user frustration with the UI. When tech companies develop a product they often think, “more features = happy user.” In some cases, this may be true, but for telehealth products, additional features may also add barriers to entry for some users. Consider simple solutions for complex issues when you can.
4. Guide your User through the Interface – For appointment scheduling, intake forms, conferencing, and more – step-by-step is the name of the game. To make usability even easier for people with disabilities, use voice activation to enhance their ability to answer questions.
5. Get Creative – Let’s be honest, some users need more motivation than others. When the health tech tool needs consistent user engagement to be useful, offering incentives like discounts, gift cards, or coupons can be just the push users need to get the most out of telehealth.
6. Gamification – Gamification is a complicated design technique which requires using various game mechanics referring to the interactive UI elements. It’s typically used to increase user engagement. Improving our health can be fun and using positive feedback loops can be stimulating.
7. Provide Custom Experiences – Using technology like Natural Language Processing and Machine Learning to communicate test results simply and effectively, or to identify trends is always a plus. Let’s face it, most of us are not experts when it comes to our own health. This makes it a challenge to self-advocate or even to understand the long-lasting importance of staying healthy. An educated patient is an empowered telehealth user.
8. Make It Easy to Get Support – Being able to quickly get on the phone to get help is a MUST and knowing how to find this help on any application is essential for telehealth applications. Using large, visible design components, like buttons, icons, important text, etc, will increase usability and support use by seniors looking to improve their health outcomes and enhance the quality of life.
9. Support Groups and Engaged Communities – Don’t forget to design your application or telehealth platform to support groups and encourage community engagement. Older adults can feel isolated and alone, far away from family and loved ones. Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, helping users find a supportive community can encourage them to get educated about their own health and feel empowered and supported by their peers. Humans learn better from peers who share similar stories, experiences, and world views.
While seniors are using modern devices like smartphones and computers, telehealth usage rates could be improved with the implementation of specially-designed aspects of technology for seniors. We don’t need another viral crisis to start designing effective, efficient, and adaptable telehealth products. Especially when designing products for our most vulnerable patients, technology needs to be designed to alleviate the burden, not add to it.
This is where good healthcare design helps innovation meet empathy.
About Amy Oughton
Amy Oughton is the Founder and CEO of UI/UX design and development agency Dream in Color. An award-winning UI/UX designer herself, Amy is passionate about improving user experience in the healthcare and nonprofit sectors. As a type 1 diabetic, she is dedicated to using technology to improve lives. She specializes in humanity-driven technology products, data visualizations and dashboards, and complex web applications. For the past eight years, Amy has worked with global brands to improve access to healthcare data and information on public health issues. She is a graduate of the Art Institute of Washington.