“I like the idea of using technology and an app to provide services, but I see a lot of older adults, and they don’t use technology like we do.”
This is one of the most common responses I receive from other physical therapists (PTs) about technology in healthcare, specifically the different types of telehealth available. The problem with this response is that it’s loaded with assumptions and stereotypes that aren’t accurate. Yes, some older adults don’t like to use a computer, laptop, or smartphone, but that doesn’t mean all older adults feel the same way.
I can already anticipate their next response, “But I know my clients and they don’t seem interested.” Instead of going down the rabbit hole and debating anecdotes, let’s look at the research.
Research on technology adoption tells us a different story
According to the most recent data from PEW Research Center, older adults are becoming increasingly digitally connected.
- Around four-in-ten (42 percent) adults ages 65 and older now report owning smartphones, up from just 18 percent in 2013. Internet use and home broadband adoption among this group have also risen substantially. Today, 67 percent of seniors use the internet – a 55-percentage-point increase in just under two decades. And for the first time, half of older Americans now have broadband at home.
- Seniors ages 65 to 69 are about twice as likely as those ages 80 and older to say they ever go online (82 percent vs. 44 percent) or have broadband at home (66 percent vs. 28 percent), and they are roughly four times as likely to say they own smartphones (59 percent vs. 17 percent).
- Adoption rates also vary greatly by household income. Fully 87 percent of seniors living in households earning $75,000 or more a year say they have home broadband, compared with just 27 percent of seniors whose annual household income is below $30,000. Educational differences follow a similar pattern, with college graduates adopting technology at much higher rates than seniors with lower levels of formal education.
- Once online, most seniors make the internet a standard part of their daily routine. Roughly three-quarters of older internet users go online at least daily, including 17 percent who say they go online about once a day, 51 percent who indicate they do so several times a day and 8 percent who say they use the internet almost constantly. Among older adults who own smartphones, this figure is even higher: 76 percent of these smartphone-owning older adults use the internet several times a day or more.
Don’t make assumptions; let your patients decide
Perception isn’t always reality. Even therapists who fight ageism stereotypes every single day can fall into assumptions that aren’t accurate. There will always be people who withdraw from technology, that isn’t new; what is newsworthy is that adoption rates are steadily climbing and the future is bright with possibilities. We can identify who is more likely to benefit from tech and to build bridges to help those who are more prone to withdraw. This will help to improve effectiveness and adoption at the same time. Monica Anderson and Andrew Perrin, Pew researchers share:
“Older Americans who use the internet tend to view technology in a positive light and incorporate digital technology into their everyday lives. Fully 58% of adults ages 65 and older say technology has had a mostly positive impact on society, while roughly three-quarters of internet-using seniors say they go online on a daily basis – and nearly one-in-ten go online almost constantly.”
Many of the therapists I know are so in the thick of things that they aren’t able to step back and see the big picture. They have a hard time stepping back to look a week down the road, let alone a few years. As a profession, we can’t afford to continue to kick the can down the road and be reactive. We need to be proactive in using all available resources to get the best results possible. That’s what our patients deserve.
Sean Hagey is the founder of GetPT1st, an awareness campaign promoting the profession of physical therapy, a home health physical therapist assistant (PTA), and social media marketing/advertising consultant for In Hand Health. What are your thoughts on replacing PT/patient interaction with live video chat? Helpful or harmful? Share your thoughts with us on our Facebook and Twitter pages.