Consumer / Employer, Health Tech

Why Is Health Tech Still Not Personalized?

Health technologies are often built based on the “reference man” and frequently don’t take other demographics into account. It shouldn’t be this way, experts argued on a panel Thursday at the HIMSS 2023 conference.

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Health technology has the potential to help people take control of their health — but it’s not helping everyone, experts say. Why? Because the models weren’t designed for everyone.

“When we make informed decisions and we build technologies and tools to provide healthcare experiences or care experiences to people, we build those models off of the ‘reference man,’ said Danika Kelly, co-founder and CEO of My Normative, a female-focused health platform. “The ‘reference man’ is a 70 kilogram, 20 to 30-year-old white, cisgendered male person. … Because of that, there are these inequities and health outcomes across sex and gender, and other demographics as well.”

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Kelly said this during a panel about health tech and personalized care, which was held Thursday at the HIMSS 2023 conference in Chicago.

Author and consultant Dr. Talya Miron-Shatz, who was also a panelist, supported Kelly’s comments. She added that people who are using health tech “are interacting with something that someone created for you, based on their assumptions of who you are and what you can do. And sometimes, they’re just assuming too much.”

There are also several biases that come into play when it comes to health tech, including ageism, Miron-Shatz said. Seniors often struggle with using technology — but when offered support and direction, that can change, she added. 

As an example of how this can be done, Miron-Shatz cited a study she worked on in which the researchers developed an app to help seniors with medication adherence and installed it on iPads. They put a sticker by the “On” button, provided home visits and showed the seniors how to use the application. The study found that the app improved adherence among seniors.

“I think when we look at older populations or populations that are not as digitally savvy, we should not give up,” Miron-Shatz said. “We should make our products fairly accessible to them. We should make the implications very clear to them. And we should perhaps also consider hybrid models.”

Building technologies with other demographics in mind should be the norm, Kelly argued.

“It should not be an add-on to consider our seniors. It should not be an add-on to consider our pediatric populations. It should not be an add-on to consider female persons and women,” Kelly said. “We should be baseline components that get built into our technologies right out of the gate. … Otherwise we’re faulting the elderly for not knowing how to use the technology that we never actually built for them. … Faulting people for not being the right kind of body for the technologies that we built and deployed is hugely problematic.”

Photo: Irina Devaeva, Getty Images