Older adults like digital healthcare tools—and they want more of them

Contrary to popular belief, older adults aren't averse to tech. They enjoy using it, and they want more digital options to manage their care.
Patient Experience

For many healthcare leaders, implementing new technology feels like a zero-sum game. 

On one hand, there’s little doubt that younger patients will embrace it. Research shows that Millennial and Gen Z consumers prefer to go online to make appointments, consult with providers, refill prescriptions, access their test results and more. These patients are comfortable with technology, and they want it to play a bigger role in their healthcare experience. 

On the other hand, providers often have significant doubts about older patients’ willingness and ability to adapt to new healthcare technologies. The prevailing assumption is that those age 65 and older are tech-averse. They didn’t grow up with smartphones, much less the internet, so they must feel uncomfortable using digital healthcare tools. That’s a frightening prospect for providers: If they bring in new technologies, older patients may find them too unfamiliar or overwhelming, which could create barriers to their care.  

But contrary to these popular beliefs, older adults enjoy using technology, and they want more digital options to manage their care. Phreesia’s recent survey of more than 4,000 patients found that older adults prefer tools like mobile check-in, self-scheduling and online payments. In fact, when given the option, most older adults would choose a digital-first experience that puts them in the driver’s seat. 

Put simply, the caricature of an older adult struggling to understand new technology is outdated. By implementing technology in the right ways, healthcare organizations can increase access to care, improve health outcomes and deliver a modern, convenient experience for patients of all ages. 

Here are four ways that technology can help you improve the healthcare experience for older adults: 

1. Technology can strengthen the patient-provider relationship 

As people get older, they need to see their providers more often.  

Patients over age 65 are at higher risk for complex health problems that need routine monitoring or intervention—but according to one study, nearly 1 in 4 older adults avoid seeking medical care. The reason? In many cases, older adults feel awkward or uncomfortable talking about their health concerns with their providers. 

Technology can help providers have more meaningful conversations with older patients by proactively addressing their age-related health risks and concerns. Offering digital screening tools, for example, gives older adults the opportunity to answer sensitive health questions from wherever they feel most comfortable—even before their visit. When providers understand patients’ needs in advance, they can spend less time on paperwork and more time fostering supportive relationships. The end results are better health outcomes and more productive patient-provider interactions. 

2. Technology can help meet older adults’ financial needs 

For many older patients, the biggest barrier to accessing care is cost. 

In a recent Edward Jones survey, retirees and pre-retirees cited healthcare costs as their greatest financial worry in retirement. What’s more, an October 2021 Commonwealth Fund report found that 1 in 12 older adults have postponed or skipped care due to cost concerns.  

To mitigate that problem, providers need to offer patients flexible ways to pay their medical bills. Digital tools like online payments and automated payment plans help all patients better manage their finances, including those on fixed incomes or with high-deductible insurance plans. 

Better yet, older adults want the ability to pay online. According to Phreesia’s survey, 52% of patients age 65 and older would likely pay their medical bills online in 2022 if given the option, and 6% said they would consider switching providers for that convenience alone.  

3. Technology offers flexible ways for older adults to communicate with their providers 

Today, patients of all ages expect to communicate digitally with their doctors—and older adults are no exception. 

Among Phreesia-surveyed patients age 65 and older, 75% said they enjoy using digital messaging—like emails, text messages and patient portals—to communicate with their providers. In fact, 34% of said they consider it a “must have” when choosing a doctor. 

The main reason? It’s easier. According to AARP research, 72% of adults age 70 and older own a smartphone, and 88% of those adults use their smartphones daily. That’s why many providers are implementing tools like two-way text messaging to reach patients faster and to meet their technology expectations, even after they leave the exam room. 

Not sold on texting? Consider email. AARP research shows that 67% of adults age 70 and older use email on a smartphone or tablet at least once per week. When providers can communicate digitally in real time, patients of all generations can be assured there is always a healthcare professional ready to speak with them, no matter where they are. 

4. Technology delivers the speed and convenience older adults expect 

From the patient’s perspective, healthcare isn’t typically known for its agility—but technology is changing that narrative. 

In Phreesia’s survey, 55% of adults age 65 and older said they prefer to see doctors that offer online check-in, citing speed (54%), convenience (57%) and less time spent in the waiting room (62%) as their top value drivers. Speed and convenience also were among the top reasons older adults gave for scheduling an appointment online or making medical payments digitally in the past 12 months. 

For organizations looking to maximize efficiency, that’s good news. Just like younger generations, older adults are flexible and forward-thinking, and they aren’t afraid to try new things. By using technology to streamline the care experience for older adults, healthcare providers can respond more quickly to their needs, improve their health outcomes and better engage them in their care. 

Learn how Phreesia’s digital tools can help you deliver the patient-centric experience older adults expect.