There is a prevailing idea that only younger consumers and the “worried well” thrive on the use of technology.

But digital health companies making inroads with older patients are dispelling this idea as a myth, as they see rapidly rising demand for tech tools among the Medicare population.

Among all Medicare beneficiaries, 52% received telemedicine care through the end of 2020, according to data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). The use of telehealth escalated in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic and drove a shift in behavior among older patients, executives say.

“I remember a CMO of a very large national plan telling me that texting and technology were for millennials. I said, ‘Well, my great aunt texts more than me.’ I really believe that, especially with COVID, there is this wonderful opportunity to bring virtual care into folks’ homes and there is a real demand for it,” said Julia Hu, CEO and co-founder of Lark Health.

Hu’s company helps people prevent and manage chronic conditions through an AI-powered platform.

A recent study commissioned by Lark Health found that adults over the age of 65 are more engaged with digital coaching platforms than younger adults are. “It was close to 25% more engaged. And, it led to better outcomes,” Hu said. “Digital coaching allows for real connection and in a much more scalable fashion.”

Hu spoke on a panel at this week’s virtual summit hosted by Fierce Health Payer, where she was joined by Caitlin Donovan, global health of Uber Health, Jon Bloom, M.D., CEO of Podimetrics and Meghan Joyce, chief operating officer and executive vice president of platform at Oscar. The panelists discussed how Medicare Advantage plans are adapting to the shift to digital to meet the needs of MA members.

Joyce said technology and digital health tools can play a critical role in engaging MA members in their own care.

“I think of the old Steve Jobs adage: ‘If you ask people what they are looking for, they never would have described a smartphone. But it turns out, that’s what they needed all along.’ Ask MA members what they are looking for in their healthcare or health plan experience, I don’t think many of them would say, ‘I’d really like a digital health option.’ But it turns out, you can use technology to advance a lot of their core objectives even more effectively,” Joyce said.

She added, “When I think about what it takes to do Medicare Advantage well, it’s not just access to high-quality, affordable care but it’s also deep engagement with the member and ensuring they get the care they need when they need it. There is ample opportunity for technology to enhance this space, and now is the moment when this population is actually turning to technology more than ever.”

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