A recent phone call from my mother started me thinking about computers, the elderly, and how there must be a push to advance this technology niche. Although she mastered the basics of her laptop and smartphone, my mother is still intimidated by both. Just turning on her devices induces anxiety. She has resorted to asking family members to Google whatever phone number, address or information she requires, but since most of us don’t live nearby, the immediacy of her need is often compromised. It turns out she is not alone. A recent Pew Research Center survey found that 53% of those 65+ use email and Internet on a regular basis, compared to 80% of the general adult population. As the world moves away from print into strictly digital formats, will only tech savvy seniors be able to have a high quality of life?
The answer appears to be a resounding yes. The sheer breadth and speed of the changes necessitates a moonshot approach to the problem of seniors and technology. It has long been assumed that by promoting patient engagement strategies, such as access to EHRs, the result would be improved care and reduced cost of such care. But for seniors like my mother, who are technologically fearful or for those without access to devices, frequent and costly trips to see their healthcare provider remain a mainstay of their existence. The ability to review test results and self-diagnose could go a long way to reducing anxiety and the frequency of such trips, but very few of the 65+ crowd are actually accessing the Internet for their health care. In fact, another Pew survey revealed that only 13% of seniors accessed the Internet to self-diagnose a condition as compared to 47% of young adults
So how do we close those gaps? Experts believe that paradigm shift resulting from Obamacare necessitates a national, and eventually a global, solution to bring 100% of seniors online, even the most economically disadvantaged. A good place to start is with localized programs that seem to be working, such as SeniorNet, Oasis Connections and OATS. We are certain, however, that without the input of stakeholders on the frontlines of senior healthcare; PTs, OTs, SLPs, and RNs, the technology divide will continue to deepen. What is your experience with seniors and computer access to healthcare resources? What solutions do you have to close these gaps and bring patient-centric care to this population? Comment on our Facebook page.