Internet use fosters socialization, improved health literacy in older patients

The Internet and all its associated digital devices have largely changed the way the average human interacts with their fellow men or women. On public transit, there might be a handful of people not buried in their phones or plugged into a music-playing gadget. Social media sites have also added a new dimension to making and maintaining acquaintances online, though all members of society may not have experienced this digital upheaval in quite the same manner.

According to the Pew Research Center, U.S. adults over the age of 65 do not access the Internet in nearly the same numbers as younger people. While 86 percent of all adults had in-home Internet access in 2012, only 59 percent of seniors could say the same. Also, only 47 percent of those connections were broadband, meaning that the majority of elderly Americans looking up information online are doing so with exponentially inferior speeds and quality.

What does this mean for healthcare marketing? According to a recent study conducted by researchers at University College London and published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, Internet use by elderly patients improves their interactions with peers, which in turn can be leveraged to boost patient health literacy rates in this key demographic. Healthcare marketers should take note and redirect digital solutions toward this previously untapped market.

It might be time to try new techniques to break through to elderly patients.It might be time to try new techniques to break through to elderly patients.

Old dogs, new tricks
Clinicians often have to pay special attention to elderly patients who do not demonstrate the ability to manage their conditions properly with normal discharge instructions. This may be due to advancing age or cultural and linguistic differences, but according to Lindsay Kobayashi, M.Sc., research assistant at University College London and lead author of the study, may have found a way to leverage digital solutions to improve health literacy among older patients.

"Seniors who used the Internet to conduct searches on health topics exhibited above-average results."

Kobayashi and her colleagues reviewed information from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing before selecting 4,368 individuals at least 52 years or older. The researchers then tested the baseline health literacy levels of these participants by measuring the information they absorbed by reading a medicine bottle label. Kobayashi then split the subjects into three groups that underwent varying programs of Internet usage for a period of six years.

After correcting for socio-economic factors, the researchers found that the 32 percent of elderly patients who underwent a program of consistent Internet use showed the greatest protection against a decline in health literacy levels. Specifically, seniors who used the Internet to conduct searches on health topics, as well as those who used email to connect with others in the study, exhibited above-average post-intervention results.

Internet for all
Healthcare marketers may be hesitant to commit resources to a digital advertising campaign targeting elderly patients - a demographic that these solutions have not been very effective with in the past. However, true success calls for dynamic responses, and healthcare marketing solutions that make heavy use of Internet resources could be the answer providers have been searching for - they just need to make sure they partner with an agency experienced enough to craft such engaging materials.