AARP, Pfizer, UnitedHealthcare team up to research digital health usability for older consumers

By Jonah Comstock
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Misfit Flash, one of the devices that will be used in the study. Misfit Flash, one of the devices that will be used in the study.

AARP has launched a new research initiative, called Project Catalyst, where the organization will work with partners including Pfizer, UnitedHealthcare, and Georgia Tech to promote an increased focus on users over 50 in digital health research and development. The first project of the new initiative, focused on sleep and activity trackers, is launching at Georgia Tech.

“Technology that is designed well – designed for all – can be used by a 5-year-old and a 95-year-old, alike," Jody Holtzman, senior vice president of thought leadership at AARP said in a statement. "We are thrilled about starting this study and commencing the launch of the Project Catalyst program. The goals of Project Catalyst are in direct alignment with the mission of AARP – to identify challenges and determine solutions to improve the quality of life for people as they age.”

The initial research project will be carried out at the Georgia Tech Research Institute's HomeLab. In the study, 80 consumers aged 50 and up will use five different consumer devices to track their sleep and activity over a five week period. The devices in the study will be the Withings Pulse, Misfit Flash, Lumo Lift, Spire, Fitbit Charge and Jawbone Up24.

The study will evaluate the usability of the devices, as reflected in user surveys, and the effectiveness at the devices in changing users' behavior. Findings, which will be available in June 2015, will not rank the devices against one another, but will explain how subjects used different devices and what barriers they encountered.

Additional research projects will follow, which may include more specific participation from Pfizer and UnitedHealthcare. The two companies will help ensure the learnings of the studies are shared among many healthcare stakeholders.

“With the 50-plus population representing a large portion of the patients who depend on our medicines, we recognize the importance of finding innovative solutions to challenges such as medication management and adherence,” Wendy Mayer, vice president of worldwide innovation at Pfizer said in a statement. “Project Catalyst has potential to enable collaboration across multiple stakeholder groups with the common goal of delivering the best value, and we look forward to continuing our longtime partnership with AARP.”

AARP says on its website that the projects "rely on the guidance, support and expertise of our partners to help design research projects that are both informative and actionable, cutting edge and rooted in science". The organization is also seeking additional partners.

“The goals of Project Catalyst are aligned with UnitedHealthcare’s commitment to being older Americans’ partners in a healthier future,” Tom Paul, chief consumer officer at UnitedHealthcare, said in a statement. “We’re grateful for the opportunity to help healthcare technology better meet the needs and wants of consumers 50 and older through this initiative.”