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Information sourced from NEJM Journal Watch:

A Digital Divide for Older Adults

Most older adults do not use digital technologies for everyday or health-related activities.

Digital technology is promoted as a way to improve healthcare access and quality and to lower medical care costs. Researchers used health behavior survey data from a nationally representative sample of Medicare recipients to assess use of digital technologies among 7609 community-dwelling adults (mean age, 75) from 2011 through 2014. About 4300 participants (57%) were still alive and available for follow-up in 2014.

In 2011, most participants used cell phones (76%) and computers (64%), but a much smaller proportion used the Internet (43%); <20% managed their banking or shopping on the Internet, and even fewer used digital technologies to obtain health information (16%), fill prescriptions (8%), contact clinicians (7%), or handle health insurance issues (5%). In 2014, cell phone and computer use was similar to that in 2011. The proportion of elders who used any digital health technology increased significantly, albeit modestly, from 21% in 2011 to 25% in 2014.


The low rates of digital health technology use among older patients are not really surprising; knowing whether younger patients who use comparable healthcare facilities have substantially higher rates would be interesting. These findings should serve as a caution to health systems that rely on patients’ use of digital health technologies for optimal access to healthcare.

Thomas L. Schwenk, MD reviewing Levine DM et al. JAMA 2016 Aug 2.


Levine DM et al. Trends in seniors’ use of digital health technology in the United States, 2011–2014. JAMA 2016 Aug 2; 316:538.
[JAMA preview]

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