“I’m not going to use one of those newfangled app things. When I want to see a doctor, I’m going to go see a doctor.”
Have you ever heard one of your elderly relatives say something like this? There are certainly older adults who feel this way, but there is a growing body of evidence indicating that seniors who shun technology are the exception rather than the rule. In fact, according to one survey, as many as two out of three older adults prefer to manage their health independently using health technology. More than 60 percent of those over age 65 go online to find information related to their health, for example, while 20 percent of the survey respondents indicated that that they wanted to be able to access their doctors remotely via telehealth or an app.
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This growing reliance on technology to provide care at home is surprising to many people, who simply assume that older adults are uncomfortable with such tools. However, the changing landscape indicates that there are ample opportunities for providers to incorporate technology into patient care, which will improve the quality of patient care, patient satisfaction with care, and reduce the costs of health care.
The Changing Tide
So why are seniors suddenly embracing digital technology? There are several factors at play.
“Younger” Senior Citizens. One of the largest population segments today is the Baby Boomers, most of whom are between 50 and 70 years old. This generation has been using technology both at home and in their careers for nearly 20 years now, and it’s not nearly as unfamiliar as it may be to older individuals.
The Aging-in-Place Trend. Almost 90 percent of adults indicate that they want to stay in their homes for as long as possible as they age, rather than move into assisted living or nursing facilities. This trend requires the development of new technologies to allow people the independence they desire in addition to the health care they need.
The Push for Quality. There has been a profound shift in recent years away from health care in terms of quantity of care toward an emphasis on quality of care. Provider reimbursements are influenced by patient outcomes, meaning that health care professionals are looking for new ways to provide better care for their patients, especially those with chronic conditions. By incorporating technology, such as monitoring applications, into the care plan, providers can stay abreast of their patients’ health and progress in real time, and identify potential issues before they become problematic.
Taken together, a population that understands technology and wants to use it to its advantage, combined with new trends in health care delivery, have set the stage for health care technology to grow.
Potential for Growth
Several recent surveys have not only revealed that seniors are using health care technology, but also identified a few key areas that are poised for growth. These areas are based on what seniors are already doing online and what they expect to be able to do, including:
- Researching health information online
- Joining health-related online communities for information and support
- Accessing personal medical records
- Communicating with health care providers
- Using wearable technology, such as heart and blood pressure monitors, to stay in control of chronic disease.
While some seniors are already doing these things online, almost all of them expect to be able to engage in these activities, and are surprised to find that they cannot always do so. For example, the majority of seniors (82 percent) believe that they should be able to access their full medical records online, but fewer than 30 percent report actually being able to do so. Only about half of seniors surveyed say that they are able to communicate with a provider online, either via videoconferencing or email.
The disconnect between what individuals expect in terms of digital health and the reality of what is available is generally attributed to the perception that older adults don’t want, for example, access to home care software that allows them to log in and communicate with their providers or see their records.
Nothing could be further from the truth, though. Given the current trends, there is plenty of opportunity for both developers and providers to expand digital health care offerings to older adults. By tapping into their desires to find more information, or manage a disease via wearable technology, providers can improve care and outcomes, while also building stronger and more productive patient-provider relationships.