News this past week that the Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority would roll out an app similar to that of ride-sharing providers Uber and Lyft coincided with a discussion by the Cape Cod Technology Council about the use of digital medicine. Taken together, the announcements heralded an exciting and welcome expansion of options for those who are homebound, either by choice or by necessity. What remains to be seen, however, is whether the Cape’s primary demographic will warm to this brave new world of options.
The CCRTA announcement could prove to be nothing short of revolutionary in terms of providing short-distance public transportation in a region where it has traditionally been a challenge to get from point A to point B in an affordable, timely manner. The program builds on the agency’s existing Dial-a-Ride Transportation (DART) service, which will continue even as the new system is rolled out.
The SmartDART transportation app – the first of its kind according to CCRTA officials – will allow riders to schedule pickup times at their homes in advance for $3, and will provide a trip to the RTA’s existing fixed-route transportation without a transfer fee. The agency hopes to give the app a trial run next month in Barnstable with an eye toward making the service available across Cape Cod this summer.
The same week the Authority was announcing its new app, members of the Cape Cod Technology Council were hearing about advancements in telemedicine, a practice by which patients in geographically isolated regions can access medical care via smartphones and computers. The president-elect of the American Telemedicine Association told Council members that with a critical shortage of medical professionals on the near horizon, telemedicine can help bridge the expected gap in services as baby boomers continue to age.
Dr. Joseph Kvedar noted that two of the four primary areas of digital medicine are already becoming increasingly common. Telehealth, which includes video mental health counseling and virtual urgent care visits, is in regular use. Remote digital monitoring of health markers, such as blood pressure and heart rate, has also become more routine. In both cases, according to Kvedar, patients have taken on more of the onus for their own care.
Other technologies, however, such as the use of app-driven therapy and artificial intelligence, continue to meet with some resistance, both by health care professionals and patients. After all, there is something a bit dehumanizing to have your care managed by something other than a person, regardless of how capable that intelligence may be.
Some worry, however, that an age-related digital divide could result in selective use of these services. The Cape’s demographics put this into stark relief: Between 2010 and 2016, the Cape’s 60-year-old+ population grew 13 percent, even as the overall population numbers dropped one percent. In 2016, the median age of a year-round Cape Cod resident topped 51 years old, compared with the national median age of just under 38. All of this matters because studies show that older people are often slower than younger generations to adopt new technologies. For example, a report by the Pew Research Center last year indicated that four of every 10 seniors owns a smartphone; a sizable jump over previous years, but still way below the national average for younger users.
This is not to say that all older people are adverse to learning and using new technology. The same report noted, for example, that almost 70 percent of people over the age of 65 go online regularly. Furthermore, researchers suspect that as the population ages, more and more seniors will reach their golden years with enhanced technology skills, if for no other reason than they will have been regular cell phone and computer users from an earlier age than today’s seniors.
Of course, there is nothing to prevent providers from offering both old and new ways of delivering services. For example, perhaps anticipating the potential pitfalls of a system that relies on modern technology in a region where the average age continues to climb, the CCRTA has also created an option so that those who do not have access to a smartphone can also take advantage of the app-related service. The agency has partnered with Go Go Grandparent, which allows older residents to schedule the same sort of on-demand travel using a flip phone or landline.
And many local groups as well as the Cape libraries routinely offer free programs designed to help older residents learn more about how to leverage technology to their benefit.
Every generation has at one point or another found itself looking askance at the latest technological advancements, whether it was the move to the horseless buggy or to telemedicine. The key is to make sure that in our rush toward some bright new future, we take care to ensure that no one gets left in the past or in the dark.