The "M" In MHealth: It's For Boomers

The mobile healthcare industry (“mHealth”) often seems focused on the needs of seniors, the older-than-Boomer generation whose aging bodies place the greatest demands on our healthcare industry.

But if you look a little closer, mHealth may deliver the greatest value and succeed the fastest among midlife Americans, the 78 million Baby Boomer patients currently aged 47-65.

Using mHealth devices means feeling comfortable with mobile technology, and it is Boomers, not their senior parents, who got comfortable with such technology while still relatively young. You can see this fact in the dramatic drop-off in cell phone usage among the oldest consumers. While more than 90% of Americans aged 60-64 use a mobile phone, only 50% of those 80+ do the same. It will be hard to force mHealth on patients who don’t even use an “m.”

There are other reasons why the early adopters of mHealth devices will be on the younger side of the healthcare demand curve.

The primary reason to value mHealth is to remain mobile yourself, a goal more important to people in their 50s and 60s than to those in their 70s and 80s. And seniors who do incorporate mHealth devices into their lives may do so less to serve their own desires than those of their Boomer children, who want to keep track of their parents without giving up their own active lives.

Finally, mHealth may better serve younger patients with less life-threatening conditions, conditions that benefit from regular monitoring but don’t require the constant presence of a doctor or nurse.

I recently met the leaders of Virtual Health, a company that delivers an impressive suite of home-based services for consumers who want to remain independent. Its core technologies (built on IT developed by GE and Intel’s “Care Innovations” venture) allow patients to provide convenient and real-time updates on their blood-sugar levels, blood pressure, and weight to a doctor or nurse familiar with their physical condition. While these metrics are important for seniors, they also represent the conditions (diabetes, heart disease and obesity) that impair the everyday lives of active, aging Boomers as well – consumers who may ultimately be more likely to adopt the technology now.

Other companies focused on similar ventures include:

  • Lifecomm, a Hughes Telematics/Qualcomm partnership that produces simple-to-use, wearable devices that monitor the wearer’s health.

  • AT&T-powered heart-monitoring devices from eCardio and a prescription-drug reminder device called “GlowCaps.” AT&T also partnered with WellDoc’s “DiabetesManager” device to improve healthcare support for its own employees.
  • St. Jude Medical’s Merlin.net remote patient monitoring offering connects medical data between patients and doctors.

As a marketer, I like the fact that the brands that are most active in mHealth – brands like Intel, GE, AT&T, Alcatel-Lucent, and Microsoft – are also the brands that Boomers grew up with and still respect.

If you’re interested in learning more about mHealth and its impact on the Boomer marketplace, where can you turn?

There are two big events focused on this space. The third annual “mHealth Summit” will be held in Washington, D.C., in December. And January brings the giant Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where two separate sub-conferences focus on mHealth: The “Digital Health Summit” (now organized by Jill Gilbert, an entrepreneur in the caregiving space), and the “Silvers Summit,” (organized by Sherri Snelling, another experienced healthcare marketer), where I will be judging the first “Sterling” Awards that focus mobile apps and devices that serve the health and safety needs (among others) of Boomers.

McKinsey says the fast-growing mHealth industry generates at least $20 billion in the U.S. today. As you find your own role in it, remember that Boomers may be the source of its growth in the future.

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1 comment about "The "M" In MHealth: It's For Boomers".
  1. Dori Schwaiger from TopHealthSpot.com , October 20, 2011 at 10:12 a.m.
    After reading this article, all I can say is that it's all relative. Like it or not we are all moving in the direction of depending on MHealth devices. I myself am 54 and I know that I have to keep advancing with technology as I grow older. I think older boomers and even their parents realize this. I also think that boomers are not trying to get out of caring for their parents, but rather them be able to help themselves if the need arise. After all few of us still live with our parents. Anyway, very good perspective in this article :)