Do Old People Want Digital Engagement?

I know… the last thing seniors want is to be called “old people.” But as patients, do they want to be engaged using online and mobile technology?


Although the world’s online revolution has affected all aspects of consumer life, including banking, travel, shopping and media, the elderly population has often been left out or ignored, because of a widespread assumption that they don’t use online tools.  As a result, institutions often implement more costly and resource-intensive methods – like phone calls, home visits, and office encounters – to connect with and engage this demographic.

Pew Research says that 52% of those who are 65 or older use the internet (barely the majority). So maybe those healthcare providers who treat the elderly that are refusing to adopt online solutions have solid reasoning to stand on.

But not for long, because the “boomers” are coming… and Pew says of those between 50 and 64, 77 percent of them are using the internet. And it’s growing. Here are a couple more stats:

  • 42% of mobile phone owners 55 and older now have smartphones, according to Nielsen. They are quickly adopting tablets too.
  • Pew says seniors are the fastest social media adopters in the U.S. (jumping from 26% to 43% of those 65+ in the past 3 years)
  • Accenture recently found that 67% of seniors surveyed say that access to their health information is important, but only 28 percent currently have full access to their electronic health records.

Oftentimes, as patients age, a younger caregiver is responsible for managing their health, and with busy careers and families, would appreciate the use of online tools for their patient. After all, 43.5 million adult family caregivers care for someone 50+ years of age, says the Family Caregiver Alliance.

If you ignore patient demand for online tools only because “Medicare patients won’t use it,” you’re catering to the minority, not the majority. And just a few years down the road, your Medicare population may become the most active users of these tools, so it’s better to get in front of this trend now.

It’s no longer a question of “if,” but “when” providers will need to adopt online solutions to help all their patients. The last thing providers want is to be seen as behind the times or as “old people” themselves.

Read how Butler Health System engaged a senior audience (total joint replacements) using online engagement in Becker’s Hospital Review.


When you say, “As a result, institutions often implement more costly and resource-intensive methods – like phone calls, home visits, and office encounters – to connect with and engage this demographic.” it sounds to this reader that you are suggesting substituting less “resource intensive” technology methods of connecting with patients in preference to face to face or other personal approaches to connecting. I suggest that the personal approach (though initially more resource intensive) is essential for “connecting” and saves time and money in the long run because once a genuine connection between patient and physician has been made, technology can be used far more reliably for sharing information. The connection comes first.

Do you agree or are you suggesting an ether/or approach?


Kathy – thanks for raising the question.

Yes – actually, I am suggesting less resource intensive technology methods of connecting with patients in preference to face-to-face or other personal approaches. It turns out there is a large (and growing segment) of the population that would actually prefer not to have to engage with other people under circumstances when they don’t need to. They don’t really need the personal interaction to refill a medication, check an appointment, or to take a blood pressure reading. A patient can actually do many tasks on their own and can actually be much more effective and efficient when they don’t have the burden of arranging to travel to a hospital or tracking down someone to do it with or for me. So the best provider strategy here is multichannel support – creating different avenues to support the completion of some tasks in the different ways that users prefer to engage. For example, in banking. I don’t need to see a teller to write a check or reconcile an account – I can do it online. But I would want to see a bank manager to discuss a loan or a problem with my account. I think providers can benefit from having a spectrum of ways to assist their patients; recognizing that all patients don’t need personal contact for all their tasks all the time. Having said all that, I agree that “connection” is a key issue – even in new online channels, and we are seeing that too.


Thanks for replying. It seems we are on the same page after all.As a patient I agree completely that I would much prefer not to have to make an appointment every time I need a refill or some information from my doctor. My point was coming from a concern that there seems to be a push in some quarters to pit technology against face to face connection, on an either-or basis , as the means of engaging with patients. No app can engage a vulnerable human being as well as another human being. But technology certainly has an important role to play for the benefit of physician and patient alike, once that personal connection has been established.

This is an interesting discussion: Technology can reduce the time expended on low value face to face activities as well. Spending hours sorting meds in front of my mom makes no sense when technology can manage this process, optimizing regimen delivery and capturing vital sign readings. Speaking as a caregiver for the elders in my family, having a conversation where I find out the details of how my mom is doing and what she has experienced that day is a far better use of my time than pill sorting….and I can receive real time issue alerts wherever I am.

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