Designing digital healthcare solutions for older patients

We speak to Khoa Pham at K4Connect about how to design digital healthcare solutions for older patients

K4Connect is a tech startup that develops technology solutions for older adults. Here Khoa Pham, UI/UX and Design Lead of K4Connect, explains how to design digital healthcare solutions that are accessible and easy to use for older patients. 
What issues do older patients encounter with digital healthcare tools?
The first things that come to mind are accessibility and privacy. And when I say accessibility, I mean both physically and from a design standpoint. Older adults and patients have a lot to be concerned about when it comes to privacy as they are often targets of personal information and digitally-driven scams. The privacy of their data, their rights and control of usage should be easily accessible and clearly defined.

The ability to use the internet and having access to the tools to get there are also an accessibility consideration for older adults. The majority of digital healthcare tools presume these capabilities and while older adult internet usage is rising, there is still a significant portion of this demographic reported to not be connected to the internet. 

How they access the internet must also be taken into consideration. For example, those without personal devices using public computers at the library or community centre introduces a whole host of privacy concerns. Along with these prerequisites to gain access to these tools, there can be a financial barrier to entry. We serve seniors across the entire socioeconomic spectrum, including those who may not be able to afford a couple hundred dollars for a laptop.

Are there specific issues with the design of digital healthcare tools?
There are a number of common issues that tend to break down in value when the physical impairments of those 65+ get more specific. For example, practices such as colour contrast, font sizes and one-size-fits all accessibility are less impactful for an older adult with severe visual impairment like macular degeneration. 

There is also the burden of having to understand technology and complicated medical terminology being placed on the individual who’s trying to self-serve. Is it truly easy for an 82-year-old to set up their own Zoom call to discuss their Haemoglobin A1C? Do they know what that means? These are the types of questions we’re constantly asking ourselves at K4Connect to ensure we are designing technology as true advocates for older adult users.

What are the most important things to take into account when designing healthcare solutions for older patients?
Empathy, always. Ultimately the goal is empathy for each individual’s unique circumstances. We begin, at least, with empathy that “older patients” means more than everyone 65+ having all the same problems. 

There are those with vision issues, others that have mobility impairments, those with memory loss, those who have a lot of money in retirement, those who are on state supported care, those who are close to family, those who are far from family, those who are veterans, those who are widows, and those who combinations of everything above and more. There isn’t a one size fits all solution. You can certainly start broadly, but to reach people that need it most, some specialisation needs to be considered.

What is K4Connect's approach?
We acknowledge that there are many stakeholders in this industry. There’s the older adults, their friends and family, the community’s staff, the operators, the technology and health partners and the best solution involves serving all of them well. We want to create an ecosystem that centres around the older adult.

What impact did the pandemic have on the digital divide?
From what I’ve personally witnessed working at K4Connect, the pandemic seemed to shrink the digital divide, at least for our community residents. In the past two years, we’ve been able to successfully conduct more virtual meetings and services with our senior living community customers than ever before. 

In the past, we would have depended on physical visits to our residents but that was not possible. We made space for Google Meets and Zoom calls that helped us accomplish what we needed, and staff have been great at facilitating those interactions when needed. Not only has it proven successful but perhaps even more convenient because it takes less time and resources to plan for and conduct.

Family and friends have also reported similar outcomes as many turned to virtual visits and meetings when in-person visits were no longer possible. This was also one of our core focuses in product development during the pandemic; we prioritised development resources to the enhancement of existing and development of new communication and engagement features such as video chatting and digital content. This was all centred around providing communities and residents ways to foster human connection under the strict lockdown conditions the pandemic required. 

What changes do you see happening in tech design for seniors?
Most of all I see larger players becoming interested. Amazon adding CareHub, Apple adding fall detection, heart monitoring, blood oxygen monitoring and the like to their products, is a major signal that people should be paying attention to older adults the way they design and provide for other consumers. It wouldn’t surprise me if this began a domino effect in other companies and industries.

What trends do you think there will be in this area in the future?
More availability and ease of access. I think the pandemic proved that we are capable of operating via external diagnostic tools, telehealth visits, and remote services. COVID sort of caught everyone unprepared and the need for businesses and services to operate entirely remotely is no longer an option but a prudent necessity.

COVID also exposed how at-risk and isolated the older population can be. Imagine having your entire social lifeline cut from you in a matter of days. The older population, more than you or I, depend on that social interaction not just for physical and mental wellbeing, but it’s how they receive their treatment, in some cases their meals, their prescriptions, etc. They need more options that suit their lifestyles, just like the rest of us.


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