It’s probably not surprising to many that Australian consumers are increasingly turning to digital tools to manage their health, whether those tools be on their mobile phones, through social media, on wearable devices, smart scales or in online communities.

But what may surprise some is the high rate of take-up for these technologies among older Australians. The use of mobile devices and social media amount Australians over the age of 65 has increased by close to 50 per cent in two years.

61% of older Australians say technology important to managing health

With Australians living longer and seeking to age in place, seniors are using a range of digital tools to help them. An Accenture survey found that 61 per cent of respondents over 65 said using technology to help them manage their health was “very important” or “somewhat important,” and increase of 4 percentage points in two years.

Over 95 per cent of Australian seniors said they are willing to share health information from a wearable device or app with their doctor.

The Accenture survey also found that 51 per cent of older Australians said they would use an AI (artificial intelligence) doctor to obtain emergency advice, for example to find out how to treat a head injury.  

The result indicates that older Australians could be open to using “virtual service agents”, such as Siri and Alexa, to obtain health advice remotely and on demand.  

Another technology Australian Seniors could benefit from is virtual-reality after-hours appointments – which could be particularly useful for busy seniors who may not be available for appointments during normal business hours.

According to the survey:

  • more than 55 per cent of seniors said they would rather have a virtual follow-up care service after being hospitalised,
  • 31 per cent said that they would be very likely or likely to have a surgical procedure where the surgeon is assisted by an intelligent robot in an operating theatre (compared to 25 per cent of Australians under the age of 65),
  • nearly 60 per cent said they would participate in a virtual support group, and
  • over 64 per cent said they would have a virtual after-hours appointment, say at night or on the weekend.

Plenty of opportunities to use technology in aged care

The Accenture survey suggests that the provision of digital service is not keeping up with demand, suggesting aged care providers should not be afraid to develop technological innovations in their operations.

That being said, though older consumers say they are willing to use digital tools, fewer than 1 per cent of Australians over the age of 65 have actually interacted with health-related AI, and only 7 per cent have received virtual care.

According to Accenture, the biggest gap for aged care providers may be in having a digital strategy that aligns with what seniors expect from their healthcare.

For example, most aged care providers have systems to capture personal information and medical records, but they lack a Customer Relationship Management system to manage the customer preferences, which may actually be more useful for aged care residents, for example.

Nothing can replace human connections

Over time, both automation and AI will have an increasing role in the delivery of care as the population ages and the cost of care rises.

What has not changed is the need for compassion, understanding and personalised communication. The ability to respond in a way that is personalised and compassionate is still something that AI can not do. Though some technologies do allow for conversations with humans, more complex conversations can still only be conducted between two humans.

Technology can provide convenient ways to manage and deliver healthcare, but nothing can replace the human touch of a medical professional.

Image: Jerome Choain, via Flickr.

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