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Baby boomers embrace technology as much as younger users

Fred O'Connor | May 9, 2014
Baby boomers adopt tablets, wearable devices and other technologies just as energetically as younger users, according to participants at the Booming Tech forum, which focused on technology use of that generation.

Baby boomers adopt tablets, wearable devices and other technologies just as energetically as younger users, according to participants at the Booming Tech forum, which focused on technology use of that generation.

Those born between 1946 and 1964, "are not a generation new to technology," said Joseph Coughlin, director of the AgeLab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Automated teller machines and cellphones, among other technologies, were developed during their lifetimes, so they have grown to expect that technology will improve their lives, he said at the event Thursday in Boston.

"This notion that older adults don't love technology — that's not on older adults, that's bad technology," he said.

Plus, this demographic, which makes up the majority of the U.S. population, can afford to spend money on tablets, cars with onboard computers and wearable devices.

Baby boomers, who are between 50 and 68 years old, expect technology to move into predictive analytics, offer enjoyment and help them live better lives while connecting with friends, Coughlin said.

"What we want is fun," he said, not another wearable device with a sensor "that says old guy walking." Instead, they may want to use Microsoft's Kinect motion and gesture technology to work out virtually with friends, a project his team worked on with senior citizens centers. "

Applying technology to medical care will blur the lines between being a patient and being a consumer, and could yield benefits that improve baby boomers' health, said speakers at a separate health IT discussion panel. The challenge, though, lies with incorporating IT into a complex medical care system that includes health insurance companies and, increasingly, technology vendors.

"I don't see how we can provide better care without using technology," said Michael Cantor, chief medical officer of the New England Quality Care Alliance, a network of about 1,800 doctors in Massachusetts that is affiliated with Tufts Medical Center.

The complexities of the health-care system, including doctors, insurance companies and increasingly electronic-health-record vendors, mean the industry changes slowly.

"We have the technology," Cantor said. "The whole system isn't incentivized to use this technology." He noted that insurance companies, for example, do not reimburse doctors for telemedicine.

Care providers view telemedicine as a way to help control medical costs and provide care, especially to baby boomers, some of whom have chronic conditions that require constant monitoring.

Baby boomers are becoming comfortable using technology in their health care, said Don Berwick, a pediatrician and senior fellow at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, who is also running for governor of Massachusetts. Approximately 34 percent of the people who visit his campaign's Facebook page are baby boomers, he said.

Electronic health record (EHR) vendors are partly to blame for the slow adoption of health IT, said Berwick, who also ran the U.S. government's Medicare and Medicaid health care programs. EHR companies design systems that aren't interoperable and physician practices, especially smaller ones, struggle with exchanging patient data over different software systems.

 

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