Digital Health Tech Use Among Seniors Still Low

Study finds use of digital health care platforms among growing population of senior citizens needs to improve.

Digital health technology has a low rate of use among seniors, a study published in JAMA found.

Seniors age 65 and older are considered the sickest, most expensive, and fastest growing segment of the US population. Although digital health technology has been promoted as a solution to help improve the quality, cost, and safety of health care, little was known about tech use among seniors.

The goal of the study was to examine trends in the United States for senior use of digital health technology from 2011 to 2014. Researchers analyzed results from the National Health and Aging Trends Study (NHATS), which asks the same respondents every year about daily (non-health) technology use and 4 digital health modalities.

The 4 modalities are the use of the Internet to fill prescriptions, contact a clinician, address insurance matters, and research health conditions. The results showed that in 2011, the average age of the 7609 participants was 75-years-old, of whom 57% were women.

Seventy-six percent of seniors were found to use cellphones and 64% use computers, but there were less seniors using the internet (43%), email and texting (40%).

The results of 2013 data revealed that less than 20% of seniors used internet banking, shopping, social network sites, and tablets. There were even fewer seniors using digital health technology: 16% obtained health information, 8% filled prescriptions, 7% contacted clinicians, and 5% handled insurance online.

Some variables associated with less use of digital health in 2011 were older age; black, Latino, and other race/ethnicity; divorce; and poor health. By 2014, cellphone and computer use remained stable, while there were small statistically significant increases noted in other daily technologies.

The use of 3 out of 4 digital health technologies increased, and the proportion of seniors who used any digital health increased from 21% in 2011 to 25% in 2014.

“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 health care,” the study authors wrote. “Future innovations should focus on usability, adherence, and scalability to improve the reach and effectiveness of digital health for seniors.”