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Health tech–A primer

Written by Julie Potyraj

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What is the Internet of Things exactly or the Quantified Self? And, is it really important for you to know about them? It could be that if you understood their relevance, it would help improve your health. You decide for yourself. This health tech primer is the first of a nine-part series on health tech literacy and tech innovations in healthcare, developed through the online master of public health at the George Washington University.

Health literacy is critical to better health. But, the data show that older adults have low health literacy—understanding of health information and services– relative to the rest of the population. Improving health literacy leads to better health quality. It also promotes better health outcomes and greater patient satisfaction.

Low health literacy can lead to poor health outcomes, greater use of health care services, and health care safety risks, including medication errors, according to the CDC. The CDC defines health literacy as “the degree to which an individual has the capacity to obtain, communicate, process, and understand basic health information and services to make appropriate health decisions.” Health literacy skills help people identify and access the health services they need. These skills are essential for the prevention and management of diseases.

Good clear reliable information can improve people’s health literacy. Given the high risk of chronic disease, injury, and mental disorders, older adults must have the tools necessary to make the best decisions for their health.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion finds these health literacy benefits:

  • Improved communication between people and their health providers
  • Adherence to treatment
  • Better self-care
  • Better health outcomes
  • Improved patient experience
  • Greater cost savings

Technology has transformed the delivery of health care. Advances in health technology can improve patients’ experience and health outcomes. We’ve seen this with electronic storage of health records, remote monitoring, and wearable devices. Many organizations are also integrating health technology into the management of chronic disease.

Older Americans’ interaction with technology needs to grow and expand. Currently, older adults are not keeping up with health technology. Though 85 percent of older adults have at least one chronic disease, only 25 percent of them used health technology in 2014.

In order to promote health technology literacy, this Health Tech Terms series will define each of the following concepts, as well as provide an explanation about their relevance to older adults:

  • mHealth
  • Health IT
  • EMRs
  • Big Data
  • Internet of Things
  • Quantified Self
  • Data Security in Health Care
  • Health informatics

By improving your health tech literacy, you will have a more informed and confident perspective of the risks and benefits of health technologies on the care you receive.

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