Digital Tools: Low-Income & Senior Population


It is interesting how there are so many digital solutions (and vendors) being offered that are designed to help the senior or low-income population, but few discuss how to get these groups to use or adopt these solutions. 

In the Medicare markets one of the biggest objectives health plans face are ways to improve the member experience. Digital tools could improve experience, but without the support and infrastructure in place, these digital tools could cause the opposite effect.

Internet Access as a Metric?

Take the internet, for example. I recently read an article that talked about how within the Medicare and Medicaid populations internet access is unavailable. Today, most of us assume that the internet is just there and certainly not difficult to access or use. Kind of like electricity, the internet has become a utility; we assume it is there for us. For the senior and low-income populations, this simply is not the case. Whether that’s due to costs, where the person resides, or some other combination having access to the internet not only prevents the effective use of certain digital tools, but could even be a metric to be measured under social determinant of health (SDoH)?

Some health plans that serve the Medicare and Medicaid populations have begun to subsidize the cost related to internet access. I wonder how this investment was evaluated. If internet access is provided to people who have little to no knowledge of the internet or simply aren’t familiar with the use of computers, mobile devices, etc., imagine the additional support requirements needed to undertake this initiative. Imagine the frustration and possible complaints that may occur as a result of difficulties experienced in trying to navigate the internet for the first time. Effective adoption and use of the internet is certainly the goal, but do they really understand their audience? Are they prepared to be a helpdesk for these groups?  

Understand & Adapt: Audience, Tools, Adoption

It should come to no surprise that as we continuously explore and introduce more technology, we are leaving behind a large segment of our population who is not on pace. Certainly a large portion of this population is the senior and low-income segment. Understanding their journey and developing a true “glide path” for this group will be essential to being able to realize the intended, long-term effects with these digital tools. That certainly isn’t easy and is mostly forgotten by the vendors promoting these solutions.

From an investment standpoint, a health plan could put digital tools into two categories when being considered to support their Medicare and Medicaid populations; passive and active. Where would the internet be placed? I suggest it be placed in the active bucket since it requires several steps to gain access to use. However, passive digital tools go a step further. They can easily be imbedded into the business and are easily used by the least technically savvy person. Passive tools like interactive voice response (IVR) technology have been around for years and are advancing to better improve the experience. Advances in IVR include speech analytics to identify words and tones so that a different response or redirecting to the appropriate person occurs quickly.

In addition, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are imbedded into IVR and telephony systems so that as interactions occur, patterns are identified to improve how these individuals interact. In certain instances, I would venture to say some passive digital tools will leapfrog the active solutions for the senior and low-income population simply because of the ease of adoption and use.

Digital tools are important in many ways, but understanding their role in serving the senior and low-income populations should come with perspective.

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