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Rise of online seniors


Australian health providers are starting to respond to the increasing number of tech-savvy seniors and their digital health expectations but there is still a huge gap between what consumers want and clinicians think their clients want.

That is according to Leigh Donoghue, managing director of Accenture’s health business in Australia, commenting on the results of a global survey Accenture released in Australia last week.

It found that 63 per cent of seniors were seeking digital options for managing their health and 77 per cent said online access to their health information was important, but just 17 per cent could access their records.

Accenture surveyed 9,015 adults in nine counties about using digital tools to manage their own healthcare. It involved 1,002 participants aged 65-plus, including 175 Australian seniors.

Australian seniors said they wanted access to healthcare technologies such as electronic reminders (68 per cent) and online prescription refill requests (55 per cent) but only 18 per cent of healthcare providers offered such capabilities, according to the survey. Equally, half of respondents reported that they wanted to be able to email healthcare providers, but only 6 per cent said they could.

Leigh Donoghue

Leigh Donoghue

Mr Donoghue said older Australians increasingly expected to be able to manage aspects of their healthcare services virtually just as they were going online to do their banking, shopping and entertainment.

“We are starting to reach a level where there is a critical mass that is starting to drive a response from the market and service providers and, secondly, an awareness that seniors can’t all be lumped in together. There are these discrete needs and preferences and the need to tailor their services and responses to meet the specific needs of those different segments,” Mr Donoghue said.

Those different needs might range from the recently retired and more active senior interested in travel and wellness options, to people in later life who may be dealing with social isolation and wanting communication tools, he said.

Gap in clinician and consumer expectations

Mr Donoghue said the results highlighted the “very wide” gap between the expectations of seniors and what clinicians believed they wanted.

However, he said while Australian clinicians were relatively conservative in this area, his sense was things were going to change.

“The digital senior is rising in the Australian marketplace and this point of tension between clinicians and consumer expectations will either be resolved harmoniously or there is going to be some interesting interactions between the groups.”

He said while one of the constraints of the aged care sector had been a lack of technology, the digital consumer brought with them some of that core infrastructure, such as their mobile phone or iPad, as well as the time and inclination to use the devices.

Their expectations will force a change in the way care is delivered, Mr Donoghue said, and to meet the challenge providers would need to strip away some of their preconceptions about what consumers wanted and how they interacted.

Aussie seniors below average for self-monitoring

Mr Donoghue said Australian seniors tended to respond in line with the global average in many of the areas surveyed but came in below the average with self-tracking. The survey found that 62 per cent of Australian seniors did not actively track aspects of their health, such as health indicators, health history and physical activity, compared to 55 per cent of all seniors surveyed.

“Healthcare providers must expand their digital options if they want to help their senior patients more actively participate in their own care,” Mr Donoghue said. He expected to see a lot more emphasis on this in the future as a result of affordability and capacity challenges in the Australian health system as well as increasing interest from consumers in their own wellbeing.

“The more older consumers who move online, the larger the market and the more the market will respond by developing devices, apps and services that are tailored to the silver generation.” Seniors would respond because they were highly motivated and it was what they wanted but there would be different needs for different segments, he said.

“The challenge is for the provider sector to respond to that because we are going to see a lot more emphasis on community care enabling people to stay in their homes and a big part of that will be technology that supports and enables that.”

Fast facts

Accenture surveyed 1,002 participants aged 65-plus from Australia, Brazil, Canada, England, France, Germany, Singapore, Spain and the United States. Findings included:

  • 68 per cent want online appointment scheduling
  • 64 per cent want electronic reminders
  • 51 per cent want to be able to email providers

In Spain, where electronic medical record adoption is much higher than Australia, findings for seniors included:

  • 79 per cent want access to online prescription refill requests
  • 91 per cent want online access to medical information
  • 87 per cent want online appointment booking functionality

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