The technology stereotype that needs to die – right now

2:39 pm by | 3 Comments

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enough is enoughRecently we published news about a study that tested how well text messages worked as an engagement tool with people on Medicaid. The conclusions were: “Wow, it worked!” and “It was cheap too!”

Although I like the company that provided the messaging – HealthCrowd has a sense of humor and a very human tone to its messages – the study was one of those “duh!” moments. It also struck me as condescending, as if people who needed Medicaid wouldn’t have cell phones or know how to text or be interested in taking better care of themselves. And, it’s possible that HealthCrowd knew this already but was simply justifying its existence to win over skeptics and get more clients signed up.

This is a version of the “[fill in the demographic] doesn’t use technology” stereotype. I’ve heard people say that doctors won’t use new technology, that people over 60 won’t use technology, or that patients in general won’t use technology. Often this “fact” is used to shut down a discussion of a new way of doing things.


This argument makes me mad for two reasons. The first is that it confuses willingness to learn with financial resources to buy certain tools. Not everyone can afford to buy the latest iPad or Surface, but cell phone companies are giving away iPhones. And the fewer resources a person has, the more likely she is to maximize the ones she has. Getting access to a doctor or physical therapy or vaccinations — that is a big motivator.

The second reason is that we have to stop building every service to fit the lowest common denominator, in terms of willingness to learn. Just because a text messaging service or an app or a price calculator will not be used by 50 percent of a patient population doesn’t mean the effort is not worthwhile. We have to rely on the early adopters and the super-engaged patients at this point in the healthcare revolution. They will download your app and tell you what’s wrong with it and help you test version 2.0. They also will show your app to their techno-phobic friends and their skeptical relations. They will become ambassadors, something the tech world has relied on for decades to win over new users.

So if you are skeptical about the viability of free EHRs or the potential of 3D printing or the feasibility of desk-based fitness, download our monthly report. Open your mind and consider the possibility that some of these ideas could actually work.

So next time you find yourself saying, “But senior citizens won’t use iPads,” or dismissing a new tech project with a “That will never work!” wave of your hand, pause in your criticism. Think about the slice of your patient population that might use it and build with those people in mind.

Download our monthly report and see what is possible.

Download the MedCity Startup Index for July 2014

[Image from flickr user Doran]

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Veronica Combs

By Veronica Combs

I was the editor in chief at I started writing and editing in the print world and joined a dotcom right before the 2000 crash. I was at TechRepublic/CNET/BNET for 7 years. Health was more interesting to me than the latest version of Windows, so I left for a startup tracking prescription drug news. A year later, MedTrackAlert was acquired by HealthCentral, so I shifted to audience research. The fun of daily news and interviewing smart people brought me to MedCity News in February 2012.
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Medical conditions can be pretty embarrassing for some people and others don't like to broadcast their personal problems. Besides that, medical practitioners' diagnoses too often include insults and guesswork. It is surely better to give medical clients duplicates of their personal medical information at the time it is recorded. That way individuals can safeguard their personal information, avoid embarrassment, and have a hard copy of whom they have seen, and what was diagnosed and done. It could even be useful to them later, when they discover they have been defrauded. 

Most sensible people who value their privacy will not want this 'Big Brother is watching you' technology...unless they have been brainwashed into wrongly believing that the sellers of remedies are infallible gods who never pronounce wrong diagnoses or offer wrong treatments purely to make money.


Okay I read the entire post but don't see what is the technology stereotype that needs to die?

BTW The largest "users" of healthcare include elderly women with congestive heart failure, middle aged people with development disabilities, severely disabled kids, people with a one time trauma (car accident) or cancer - and none of those are targets of consumer apps.

Veronica Combs
Veronica Combs moderator

@Cascadia The stereotype I was referring to was the "but this person won't use technology to take care of her health"  excuse that I hear a lot. People say that about doctors too, but less frequently.

Your comment shows the reality of the stereotype. Women certainly bear the brunt of the assumption that they can't figure out technology and I was trying to illustration the foolishness of that idea - guess I needed to do a better job.

Also, if you think about how many iPad apps are designed for people with autism, that stereotype falls apart too. Cancer is probably gaining ground the fastest.

Thanks for the comment. I will have to take another swing at the topic.