Elderly people often get forgotten when it comes to the massive digitisation of tools and habits that is taking place. However they are an essential group as regards the penetration of medical apps into patient usage.

Interview with Maneesh Juneja, founder and CEO of consultancy MJ Analytics Ltd, and founder of the London chapter of Health 2.0. L’Atelier met up with him at Health 2.0 Europe, held in London on 18-19 November, just after his pre-event session which focused on designing digital medical tools for the elderly.

L’Atelier: The app market is prolific, but isn’t there a risk of saturation?

Maneesh Juneja: Well, yes, there are around 97,000 medicine-related apps on the market. But in fact, out of this huge number, only a few of the applications are used by large groups and can have an impact on several million people. As far as the rest are concerned, they might well get downloaded but they’re only really being used for just a few weeks. I think that the problem we’re facing could be compared with the California gold rush. Today there are a huge number of apps on the market and just about anybody can create one fairly easily and put it online for a few dollars because there’s very little regulation. So right there it becomes very difficult to judge the quality and usefulness of these innovations – precisely because there are so many.

What can be done to clarify what’s on offer?

Well, we need to make everybody aware that these apps which are designed for medical purposes are only going to take off if and when they’re formally regulated, in the same way as has been done in the past and is still being done today with financial products and medicines. Once the user is able to identify those apps that have been tested and are more or less risk-free from the mass of offerings on the market, this will bring real value. They will then start to be widely used, I think, especially by elderly people.

Do you think there really is a market for medical apps for the elderly?

I believe that at the moment there isn’t much opportunity for a developer to make a profit in this kind of market. Once again we have a ‘chicken and egg’ situation. Digital entrepreneurs are just not being encouraged to develop digital tools specifically for elderly people. The reason is that on the one hand you get the feeling that older people don’t realise the value of these new technologies – or perhaps they’re scared of them – and on the other hand, the government and the medical services aren’t at present ready to pay for this type of innovation.

Yet you still believe there is a need to adapt medical apps so that older people can use them…

Basically I think the reason why today these kind of apps are the best way to help the elderly is the fact that we have a problem of adjustment, not just here in the UK but in the majority of countries, with regard to how society treats older people, and this is made worse by their isolation, which is generally due to the fact that their children often have to move to a different town or another country for their work, especially if they’re in the knowledge economy. Researchers have identified a link between isolation and illnesses that are becoming more prevalent such as chronic conditions or simply increased stress levels. Let me give you an example: in the UK one in every ten patients doctors see every day come to see him because they’re lonely. There are a lot of digital technologies, some of which are being presented here at Health 2.0, which could be deployed effectively and at low cost to enable older people to connect with their families and – why not? – to each other as well.

By Quentin Capelle