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We’re Spending Billions on Digital Health Technology – so Why Aren’t We Getting Any Healthier?

With all the startling advances in digital technology, many experts seem to believe that the tech industry is on the verge of solving all our problems – especially in the realm of health care. But this article we just read from CNBC asks a nagging question: with all the billions being spent on digital health care solutions, why aren’t we getting any healthier and living any longer?

What’s Wrong with the Digital Health Technology Picture?

“Billions of dollars are pouring into digital health,” says CNBC, “but Americans are still getting sicker and dying younger.” What’s wrong with this picture? For years, says the article, the tech giants in Silicon Valley and other technological hot spots have been making big promises and spending big money in order to “disrupt the $3.5 trillion health-care industry.”  These entrepreneurs and future-thinkers have invested billions in “start-ups that aim to bring down the costs of care while improving quality and access to the right providers.”  Some of this technology has found its way to upper-income consumers in the form of wearable devices or app-based tools that help patients communicate with doctors or keep track of their prescriptions.

“That all sounds great,” says CNBC. “And software is supposed to improve every industry. But when it comes to health care, it leaves one important question unanswered: Why aren’t we getting any healthier?”  The article quotes recent reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that suggest that life expectancy is dropping for the first time in decades. (We recently wrote about this disturbing trend here on the AgingOptions blog.)  In spite of all the “new tech” and the promises of better health, old problems such as suicide and alcoholism – plus new crises such as the opioid epidemic – continue to shorten average life span. Other health problems seem immune to the new technology, CNBC suggests. “Millennials are also overweight at a level that has them on pace to be part of the most obese generation in history. And despite anti-tobacco campaigns, smoking continues to be a problem, with some deaths attributable to chronic lower-respiratory diseases.”

Three Ways Digital Health Technology Misses the Mark

Why are the early reports on the effectiveness of new digital medical technology so disappointing? There seem to be three chief reasons, according to CNBC.

  • The technology is too new. “Perhaps the most obvious explanation is that the technologies are still young,” says CNBC. “Most of the investing in digital health started five to seven years ago. It takes time to get the industry on board.” Researcher James Murphy from UC San Diego told CNBC, “Some of the benefits of these new tools won’t be realized for a long time.”  He added, “Maybe we’re helping people but we’re not detecting it.”
  • The technology is aimed at the wrong target population. This is the point that really got our attention. As CNBC puts it, “Health-care spending and venture spending aren’t going to the same places.” That’s because the high-tech industry is more interested in healthy younger people with disposable income than in the truly sick. “The most expensive people to treat are patients with chronic illnesses, like diabetes and heart disease,” the article observes. “But many of the digital health companies are going after young and relatively healthy people who are looking for premium care or who want to track their workouts.” The devices that attract a lot of consumer attention such as smartwatches and wearables often cost hundreds of dollars and appeal to younger buyers. By contrast, the chronically ill often have little money and may lack access to transportation, an internet connection, and even steady housing. It could be a long time before the so-called digital revolution makes a positive impact on the lives of the poor and sick.
  • The technology ignores the basics of human nature. The driving assumption behind the digital revolution in medicine, CNBC suggests, is that artificial intelligence and app-based technology can meet human needs. But, says the article, these approaches have severe limitations. “Behavior change in medicine is notoriously hard, and might even be too challenging in many cases for an app to solve.” One psychologist told CNBC that all these cutting-edge digital technologies “have been attractive to people who are already healthy, rather than those who would most benefit from health behavior change.”  Changing the behavior of people with diabetes and other chronic illnesses is complex and often takes multiple attempts to get it right, and no single technological solution is likely to work for everyone.

Digital Health Technology vs. the Human Touch

We have nothing per se against technology, medical or otherwise, but we do appreciate the reminder that this article contains: digital tech will never replace the human touch. If you’re an older adult, we urge you to seek out the services of a geriatrician for your primary health care needs. Well-trained in the particular needs of seniors, a board-certified geriatrician will take the time to get to know you and to listen to you. Then he or she will guide you into a health care regimen that’s individually tailored for you – just the opposite of an impersonal plan prescribed by a faceless digital assistant.

When it comes to retirement planning, the individualized, personalized approach is always the best. Here at AgingOptions we recommend a strategy called LifePlanning, an approach that blends all the essential elements of a comprehensive retirement plan into one carefully crafted document. Everything in your LifePlan fits together interdependently: finances, legal matters, housing desires, medical protection, and family communication. That’s the genius of an AgingOptions LifePlan. To find out more, without cost or obligation, we invite you to join Rajiv Nagaich at an upcoming LifePlanning Seminar. For a calendar of currently scheduled seminars, visit our Live Events page and register online for the seminar of your choice.

Or if you prefer a “low-tech” solution, give us a call during the week. Age on!

(originally reported at


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