Mobile devices and gadgets are now ubiquitous. According to Ofcom, at the beginning of 2015 in the UK, 93% of adults personally owned/used a mobile phone ‒ 66% of adults had a smartphone and 61% used their handset to access the Internet.
Incredibly at the end of 2014 there were 89.9 million mobile phone subscriptions (compared to a total population of around 65 million). In the same year, 72% of adults used social networking sites. Social networking has moved very quickly from niche to mainstream - it is just a little over 10 years since the first major sites were established. Can we expect the same for health technology?
The number of apps on either of the leading app stores (Google Play or Apple App Store) now exceeds 1.5 million ‒ around 10% of these have a focus on health and well-being. While many of these have limited functionality, an increasing number are now able to connect to sensors and other devices. The potential in terms of using technology to help manage people's health and well-being is clear. And this potential will be fueled in the UK by initiatives such as the NHS Innovation Accelerator.
But what do people, the intended users and chief beneficiaries, actually think?
AXA PPP Health Tech & You recently reported on the results of a survey by YouGov of more than 2,500 people from different age groups. The aim of the 'State of the Nation Report' was to identify shifting behaviour and attitudes towards health technology.
Key findings from the report include a degree of acceptance of health technology among younger people - health technologies that would have been considered the work of science fiction just a few short years ago. For example, many teenagers say they would like to have a DNA test to understand future health risks; many others are open to having a microchip implanted under their skin so that in an emergency health workers can see their medical records instantly; and many were open to being cared for by a robot carer if the need arose. It should come as no surprise that younger people, many of whom have grown up online, may be more accepting of innovative health technologies than older people. However, it is exciting that so many are so open to such a wide range of technologies. The report suggests that, without necessarily appreciating the true benefits, these young pioneers are actually thinking about their health futures, thereby dispelling a commonly-held stereotype, and are very willing to 'give technologies a go'.
Another commonly-held stereotype is of older people as technophobes. The report, however, suggests that in reality many older people are very open to the idea using technologies such as blood pressure monitors, blood sugar level monitors and mole checkers - and a third of people aged over 55 actually use these technologies. This compares to an average among younger people of only 12% ‒ perhaps not too surprising given the varying health profiles of different generations and the relevance of particular technologies at different stages of life.
According to the report, while many younger and older people appear to be engaging with health technology, there appears to be somewhat less interest among people in their thirties and forties. This is interesting in light of a) the increased incidence of obesity, type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, lung disease and other non-communicable conditions, and b) the potential for technology to support the personal management of health and well-being at key times prior to the onset of disease.
The findings of the report suggest that while many people may be ready to embrace health technologies, many others are yet to appreciate how they and others might benefit. While the reasons behind the differing opinions are unclear, it is important to consider perhaps that one size may not fit all - particularly for different age groups. For maximum benefit, health technologies should certainly fit with the task in hand. They should also match the needs and capabilities of their intended users. The report points to a large untapped potential.