The landscape of healthcare is rapidly digitalizing. However, pharmacists are worried about the acceptance of technology use in their older patients. Here we provide 7 tips to engage older adults with digital health technology.
Over the last 3 months, the clinical team at MedMe Health reached out to hundreds of community pharmacists across Canada to understand their attitudes towards digital health.
We found that “super user” pharmacists have normalized virtual consults with their patients, while others have been hesitant. Particularly, they’re worried about the acceptance of technology use in their older patients.
Over the last decade, technology has made healthcare more accessible, cost-effective, and patient-centered. In fact, internet usage has grown in Canada over the past few years and 71% of Canadian seniors are now using the internet. This coincides with a growing interest in digital health amongst Canadians, where 76% say it can make accessing healthcare services easier. The availability of virtual visits is also expanding, as greater than ⅓ of Canadians are interested in having virtual visits with healthcare providers. Maintaining continuity of care during COVID-19 has further accelerated virtual care worldwide.
As the world becomes digitized, we need to be mindful of the “digital divide”. This concept refers to gaps in accessing technology that leads to societal inequalities. Challenges manifest from the lack of physical and skill access to technology, and are influenced by “digital determinants of health”.
Canada has an aging population. Older adults are the fastest-growing group but least likely to adopt technology. Although many are considered “tech-savvy”, they are frequently at risk of digital exclusion. This term refers to the systematic exclusion from technology of individuals with physical and cognitive challenges that come with aging, such as changes to vision, hearing, mobility and memory. Although more seniors are embracing technology, there is still hesitation and even fear in adopting these approaches because of low digital literacy and physical barriers.
This raises the question: What is the best approach to care for the aging population in our rapidly digitizing landscape?
Older adults may be unaware of digital health interventions that can benefit their daily lives. Pharmacists can bring awareness and educate on available digital interventions.
Examples of technologies aimed to support older adults include:
Older adults are well capable of using health technology. They just need the chance to learn more about digital health interventions and ways to improve digital literacy. By educating and training older adults about digital health, pharmacists can empower them to use health technologies in their everyday lives. Pharmacists should consider teaching strategies like:
Family and friends are strong influencers for older adults to adopt new technologies. By having these supports, older adults can learn through observation and gain confidence to use technologies. This supportive network can also play an integral role in their health.
Most older adults may be skeptical of the benefits of digital health. Thus, it’s important to personalize your motivation strategies when encouraging older adults to try new technology.
Aging brings upon changes to hearing, vision, mobility and cognition. These can all pose challenges to technology use in older adults. The design of technologies should consider elements that reduce these barriers.
Older adults worry about being harmed by collected personal data and loss of privacy. Pharmacists can mitigate these concerns by:
Pharmacists are the most accessible healthcare providers, and patients value our advice. If you’ve assessed that your older patient can use and will benefit from digital health approaches, explore their perceptions, hesitations, and motivations before empowering them to adopt the new technology. Research has shown that digital health recommendations from a healthcare provider improves the rate of adoption, especially in older adults.
The world of digital health can be a daunting place to navigate, especially with older adults. Pharmacists can be leaders in digital health. With support from pharmacists, it can make the process easier and optimize the health of our patients.
Graphics: Michelle Yee
Editors: Rui Su, May Zheng and Yifan Zhou
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