How to Support Elderly Patients with Digital Healthcare During COVID-19

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Digital healthcare tools have made the experience of receiving care easier for millions. However, the digital divide still exists, particularly when it comes to the elderly. With telehealth here to stay in the wake of COVID-19, what can your practice do to close this gap and help the elderly better understand healthcare technology?

Access to Digital Healthcare Still Not Universal

People with access to the internet – and the technical know-how – have enjoyed the benefits of digital healthcare for decades. They can book appointments, order prescriptions, and even have one-to-one consultations over video call. Those without internet access, however, have fallen by the wayside.  

A large majority of those left behind are from the older generations. In fact, the latest data from the Office of National Statistics shows that three-quarters of all adult non-internet users in the UK are over the age of 65. This suggests that a huge swathe of the population is missing out on patient engagement initiatives like emails and social media alerts, as well as lacking access to digital health care services.

In a post-coronavirus world where digital tools are more important than ever – for everyone's safety – this issue has never more presciently needed addressing. 

How can digitalisation improve patient experience? See our infographic to find  out

What Can Your Practice Do to Help the Elderly Access Digital Healthcare?

There are a few things your practice can do to ensure your older patients can make use of your digital healthcare services. 

Make them aware of your digital services

Although many older people lack internet access, this isn't true for everyone. You may find the reason they're not using the digital services you provide could simply be that they're not aware of them.

To encourage engagement with your online tools, reach out to your patients using more traditional technologies like SMS, email, or even post. Think about sending out step-by-step guides that explain the digital services you offer and how your patients can take advantage of them while staying safe at home.

Think about accessibility 

There's no point offering digital healthcare solutions if they're cumbersome to use or difficult to get your head around.

That's why the digital tools you provide must be designed with accessibility and ease-of-use in mind. This will make the experience of using them for everyone better, but even more so for older patients who may have poor eyesight or a lack of dexterity. 

Include digital inclusion in needs assessments

When the time comes to welcome patients back to your practice and bring new patients onto your books, it's worth inquiring about their access to digital tech.

A report into digital access for the elderly, carried out last year by the Good Things Foundation for the NHS, lists this as one of their key recommendations.

Going through this motion would allow you to gauge who in particular needs assistance accessing digital healthcare tools. These people can then be referred to relevant community learning initiatives where they can be taught basic tech lessons most of us take for granted.

Having this information to hand will be particularly useful should we experience similar outbreaks in the future. 

Don't Leave the Elderly Behind

As we all start to adjust to this new post-COVID normal, considering the needs of your older patients – who are particularly at risk – has never been more important. So, make them aware that they can access many of the services they rely upon online, ensure those services are easy to use, and try and assess which of your patients are struggling most with digital healthcare. 

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