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Tailor fit digital health tech to the elderly’s needs: study



Latest study from South Korea has found differences in purpose and satisfaction with using healthcare applications and wearable health devices among older Koreans. 

Researchers from Seoul National University, Yonsei University, aged care company Silvia Health, and DTx maker WELT Corp. surveyed Koreans aged 65 and older to investigate how they are using digital health technologies and how frailty affects their usage. They claim that they are the first to compare the utilisation of digital health technology between pre-frail or frail seniors adults and healthy seniors. 

The findings of their study, which was supported by a grant from the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency, were published in the Journal of Korean Medical Science.

FINDINGS

The study surveyed 505 respondents, 30% of whom are considered frail according to Korean standards, while the rest are considered healthy. All respondents polled are known to be smartphone users, though a majority of them (63%) cannot install or uninstall mobile apps on their own. 

It was found that a quarter of the respondents are using healthcare apps, mostly healthy seniors. For frail seniors, they are more likely to use such apps to get healthcare information and seek medical guidance than healthy seniors. Where these apps are found more useful is for supporting self-care and managing personal healthcare data, the researchers noted.

Meanwhile, only 36 out of over 500 respondents use wearable devices. These include smart watches, ear devices, and patch-type wearable devices, which are mostly used to measure physical activity. It was noted that healthy users were more likely to find convenience in using wearable devices than their frail counterparts. The latter are more likely to use wearable devices to decide on making emergency or early hospital visits. 

WHY IT MATTERS

South Korea’s population is fast ageing, with senior citizens making up almost 20% or 9.73 million of its total population in 2023. Statistics Korea expects that their number will reach 10 million this year. Given this continuing trend, the agency previously forecasted that by 2050, people aged 65 and above will account for 40% of the Korean population. 

As the latest survey found lower usage of healthcare apps and devices among frail seniors and some differences in digital health usage between frail and healthy seniors, the researchers suggested developing technologies that consider their unique needs.

“[A]lthough digital health technology is an emerging field of health management, it requires more considerations when applied to older adults compared to younger adults. To increase the usage [of] digital health technology among older adults, it is important to identify their specific purposes and expectations for such technology,” they explained.

“Therefore, when developing digital devices for pre-frail and frail older adults, it is crucial to incorporate customised services that meet their unique needs, particularly those services that they frequently use,” the researchers said in conclusion. 

THE LARGER TREND

Having one of the largest populations of smartphone users in the world, South Korea can help raise the health outcomes and status of its people by encouraging the uptake of mobile health technologies. A 2022 study recommended this after finding the technology’s potential to temper the effects of social determinants of health, including gender, household income, and social capital, on Korean’s health, particularly the underserved. It was stressed, however, that mobile health systems still cannot replace the care provided through traditional settings.



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