The stereotype of the stodgy, technology-adverse senior citizen has been built up in media over the years. Ironically, seniors are increasingly likely to embrace new healthcare technology, and are much more likely to need it.
This sounds great, but the problem, as it stands, is their lack of involvement in the healthcare process. Doctors frequently dismiss using patient engagement tools such as online portals with senior citizens because they assume that they are uninterested or unwilling to use technology. However, the inverse is frequently true; many seniors are either acquainted with technology due to remaining in the workforce or are just concerned about their health issues and providers that seem to keep them in the dark.
Additionally, senior healthcare plans vary wildly, with many expressing their desire to better manage chronic illnesses, and others needing transportation to doctor’s offices or better coordination between multiple providers.
As with any other age group, senior citizens want to be independent, empowered, and live longer, something that the frequently disjointed healthcare system is making it difficult to do.
As it turns out, around 60 percent of seniors over the age of 65 are active Internet users. This counteracts the long-held assumption that digital coordination options are wasted on the elderly. Furthermore, as the baby boomer generation ages, it’s likely that this number will increase. Patient portals are, as I’ve said before, very useful in general, but senior citizens are poised to take even greater advantage of this trend given the likelihood that they will have multiple medical conditions to contend with.
Perhaps the best gift of patient portals for seniors is that they enable patients to live independently and assert control over their own lives. In an age range where they are frequently disregarded and patronized, it is possible to give older individuals the chance to be at least partially responsible for their own care. And, if for some reason they can’t, it at least helps provide coordinated information to multiple healthcare providers.
Speaking of which, a survey from CareMore health recently revealed that only 43% of seniors are questioned about their care from other providers. For patients undergoing potentially life-threatening treatments and conditions, this is careless at best and downright dangerous at worst.
Better doctor-patient communication can help alleviate this problem, as can coordination between multiple providers. When a patient is at risk of complications, closing any sort of gaps in care can contribute to ensuring a healthy lifestyle in the twilight years.
Even beyond specific maladies, many seniors have stated that they would like to live healthier lives, whether through cholesterol management, weight loss, or better eating habits. As medical professionals, we can help them do this; but the key is the understanding that every senior is different. Some may already be adept at using technology and take to new gadgets and applications easily. Others may need assistance, but it’s vital that the process is approached with mutual respect, ample communication, and patience.