Older Americans are a beat behind when it comes to tracking their own health
Many doctors are now offering patients online access to portions of their electronic medical records, including lab results, medication usage information, immunization records and reminders for screenings. Yet, a new study finds, too few seniors go online to check these records.
University of Michigan researchers looked at data from the long-running Health and Retirement Study and found that less than a third of adults aged 65 and older use the Internet for health information. Barely 10 percent of those with a low level of health literacy go online for health-related issues.
“In recent years we have invested many resources in web-based interventions to help improve people’s health, such as electronic health records designed to help patients become more active participants in their care,” said study author Helen Levy, a research associate professor at the university’s Institute for Social Research. “But many older Americans, especially those with low health literacy, may not be prepared for these new tools.”
The study suggests there’s a significant digital divide when it comes to health care, leaving the elderly in a particularly vulnerable position.
“Health information technology promises significant benefits, but it also comes with the risk that these benefits won’t be shared equally,” said senior study author Kenneth Langa, M.D., a professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School. “The Internet is becoming central to health-care delivery, but older Americans with low health literacy face barriers that may sideline them in this era of technology. Programs need to consider interventions that target health literacy among older adults to help narrow the gap and reduce the risk of deepening disparities in health access and outcomes.”