Use of health IT and online services remains low with seniors
Thursday, August 11, 2016
The news is in, and research suggests what we may have already known. Individuals 65 years and older do not use the internet for their healthcare searches, and the number adopting digital health tools remains low, according to a research letter published in the Journal of the Medical Association.
Based on research by the National Health and Aging Trends Study, 4,355 seniors were asked about their use of technology yearly from 2011 to 2014. According to the report, 76 percent of the respondents used cellphones and 64 percent used computers in 2011, but only 16 percent obtained health information online.
Much fewer used digital health tools to fill prescriptions (8 percent), contact clinicians (7 percent) and handle insurance claims (5 percent). Only 21 percent used any digital health tool in 2011, while 25 percent reported doing so three years later.
A major concern by industry leaders has always been patient engagement, especially when attempting to get patients to connect to their health records and their caregivers through software solutions, so this may not be all that startling. However, it does paint a real picture about patients' use of technology in their own care.
Questions remain as to why seniors specifically are not engaging with the technology. Do they not understand the technology? Do they not have access to the technology? Are digital portals too difficult to use? Are web services too tricky to figure out?
"Digital health is not reaching most seniors and is associated with socioeconomic disparities, raising concern about its ability to improve quality, cost and safety of their healthcare," the authors wrote.
"There's been this general belief that digital health technology will 'rescue' seniors, and improve their healthcare quality," said Dr. David Levine, lead researcher on the study and an internist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. "When it comes to more-advanced technology, they're just not using it."
More seniors used digital health technologies to obtain health information, contact clinicians and fill prescriptions than for handling insurance. But only 1.1 percent went online for all four functions in 2011, growing to just 1.8 percent in 2014. While 14 percent increased the number of modalities they used, 10 percent decreased their use.
Dr. Kavita Patel, a fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based Brookings Institution told HealthDay, "Only 8 percent were filling prescriptions online? Only 7 percent contacted their clinicians [online]? This study shows we can't make assumptions about people's use of digital technology."
She said that kind of communication could be especially helpful for Americans 65 and older — the population group with the most illness and highest healthcare costs. Minorities were about 50 percent less likely than whites to be using digital health technology. People with at least some college education were about five to 10 times more likely use it, compared to less-educated seniors.
Needless to say, more education is needed by organizations that serve seniors to encourage them to access their health information, view patient information online, make appointments for service online and generally interact with their caregivers. Patel told HealthDay there is much to be done; she said the Medicare program and seniors' groups like AARP could do more to educate older adults on using digital health technology.
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