Digital health has no age limit. According to the recent research, seniors are keen to use digital channels to manage their healthcare.
Seniors in the Internet
Accenture research reports that Medicare consumers are frequently (at least once daily) online. Ninety-one percent are using email frequently and 73 percent frequently search the Internet. Nearly one-third frequently login to Facebook or other social media sites.
This data comes in par with the Pew Internet & American Life Project. According to this research, Internet use rates tripled among seniors (65 and over) and doubled among 50 to 64 year olds between 2000 and 2012. The highest growth in Internet use among all age groups during this period was among seniors 65 and over.
eHealth and Digital Channels for Seniors – Reality versus expectations
The 2013 Accenture Consumer Survey on Patient Engagement covered more than 9,000 adult consumers in nine countries, including about 200 US seniors. It shows that 67% of Americans 65 and older say that accessing their medical information online is very or somewhat important.
Overwhelming majority (83 percent) of US seniors thinks that they should have full access to their electronic health records, but only 28 percent actually does today. Similarly, 70 percent of survey respondents said they believe it’s important to be able to request prescription refills online, but only 46 percent can do that today.
In addition, according to the Consumer Survey on Patient Engagement, 62 percent of seniors believe it is somewhat or very important to be able to book appointments online. Over half (53 percent) say it is somewhat important or very important to email with providers, what is sadly possible only for 15 percent of surveyed seniors.
Baby Boomers and GenX-ers are getting older, too.
It is not only Accenture that points out an increasing importance of digital channels in healthcare for the seniors. Global Social Enterprise Initiative at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. and Philips conducted a study for Aging Well: Next Generation Tech Roundtable.
This survey results are based on responses from a sample of 1,200 Americans aged 34 to 67, weighted to reflect a nationally representative profile of baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) and GenX-ers (those born between 1965 and 1976).
By 2020, an estimated 118 million Americans, or almost 40 percent of the country’s population, will be older than 50. This generation moving into this next phase of life has embraced technology and believes in its ability to help keep all of them healthy and living independently as they age.
A majority (73 percent) of all respondents declared a preference for aging at home, and almost all (more than 90 percent) said being independent and having access to quality healthcare would be important to them when they reach retirement.
Baby boomers and GenX-ers use technology frequently. Nearly seven out of ten respondents (69 percent) report a high level of comfort with technology. The level of comfort increased among younger respondents, with 75 percent of GenX-ers reporting a high level of comfort, as compared with 62 percent of “leading edge” baby boomers, or those born before 1955.
Two-thirds (67 percent) of both baby boomer and GenX respondents said they would be willing to spend between $25 and $499 per month on technology if it would help keep them at home as they age, and 13 percent said they’d spend more than $500 per month for such technology.
According to Bill Novelli, a professor at the Georgetown University McDonough School of Business in Washington, D.C., and member of the Philips Aging Well Think Tank, these results reveal a huge opportunity for the healthcare industry as older people are far bigger consumers of healthcare than younger people.
Unfortunately looking at their parents experience, in the Philips/GSEI study as both Gen X and boomers feel that their aging parents (age 60+) are not utilizing technology as well as they could.
53 percent of boomers and Gen X believed it would be a good thing if their parents used technology more with 45 percent stating that it will help them stay better connected with friends and family.
Boomers and Gen X want their aging parents to utilize monitoring technologies, such as home health monitors (45 percent) or security systems (43 percent). However, only 17 percent are using home health monitors, and 12 percent have a security system.
40 percent of boomers and Gen X said their parents think technology is “too hard” to learn. Respondents point to the fact that the time involved in learning to use a device and fixing potential problems discourages use.
Call for action for the healthcare industry
“Just as seniors are turning to the Internet for banking, shopping, entertainment and communications, they also expect to handle certain aspects of their healthcare services online,”
– said Jill Dailey, managing director of payer strategy, Accenture Health.
“What this means for providers, and health plans is that they’ll need to expand their digital options if they want to attract older patients and help them track and manage their care outside their doctors’ offices. As the digitally engaged senior patient population continues to grow, healthcare systems need to consider the role the Internet can play in making healthcare more convenient for patients of all ages at every touch point,”
– Dailey added.
“For people to live independent, fulfilling lives in their own homes and communities as they age, technology must continue to become easier to learn and use while also being better integrated with adjacent technologies, including patient care,”
– said Bill Novelli, distinguished professor of the practice, Georgetown University McDonough School of Business, and member of the Philips Aging Well Think Tank.
Healthcare providers who want to attract and retain older customers have to keep in mind growing importance of digital channels, eHealth and mHealth solutions. They are important not only as marketing tools, but also as a technology that curbs costs and helps people live better lifes while they are older.
Current status quo leaves a lot to improve. Both Accenture and Philips/GSEI research show that the demand for new technologies comes from current seniors and two generations that will become senior by 2020.