At least three-fourths of Medicare recipients access the Internet at least once a day for email (91 percent) or to conduct online searches (73 percent), and one-third accesses social media sites, such as Facebook, at least once a week, according to a survey of more than 9,000 adults in nine countries by management consulting and technology services specialist Accenture.
The study indicated that with an estimated 3.5 million U.S. citizens a year expected to reach the age of 65 through 2021, there is more focus on the growing number of tech-savvy seniors (57 percent) who are seeking digital options for managing their health services remotely.
"Just as seniors are turning to the Internet for banking, shopping, entertainment and communications, they also expect to handle certain aspects of their health-care services online," Jill Dailey, managing director of payer strategy at Accenture Health, said in a statement. "What this means for providers and health plans is that they’ll need to expand their digital options if they want to attract older patients and help them track and manage their care outside their doctor’s office."
Although many seniors want access to health-care technology, such as virtual physician consultations (42 percent) and self-serve tools (62 percent) such as online appointment scheduling, research shows only one-third of health-care providers currently offers such capabilities.
"As the digitally engaged senior patient population continues to grow, health-care systems need to consider the role the Internet can play in making health care more convenient for patients of all ages at every touch point," Dailey said.
Seventy percent of those surveyed believe it’s important to be able to request prescription refills electronically, but fewer than half (46 percent) say they can do so today. In addition, the majority (58 percent) want the ability to email health-care providers, but only 15 percent say they currently have that capability.
About two-thirds of seniors (67 percent) surveyed say that access to their health information is important, but only 28 percent currently have full access to their electronic health records. Another recent Accenture report found 56 percent of Medicare consumers visited their health plan’s Website at least once in the past 12 months.
According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, Internet use rates tripled among seniors (65 and above) and doubled among those between the ages of 50-64 between 2000 and 2012. The greatest growth in Internet use among all age groups during this period was among seniors 65 and above, ushering in the era of the so-called "silver surfer."