COTA Victoria volunteer Anita Smith recently presented at the Health Issues Centre’s forum on the challenges of digital health for older people. Melbourne-based Anita and her husband, Dwight, often support neighbours and friends to fill out digital paperwork to access health care. This help was in particular demand during the pandemic.
Digital health assumes that people are digitally literate, have access to the right devices, and have the money to maintain and update them. However, as Anita reminded the audience, many older people have some kind of digital device, but still struggle to use digital technology because they don’t have updated devices (such as a smartphones or smart tvs); equipment to print and scan or complete complicated documents online; and continually updated software.
Anita highlighted many issues with telehealth and online health consultations for older people. Telehealth and online health consultations can be an easy alternative for people with non-complex health issues to do regular check-ups and renew scripts, but for many it presents complex issues and challenges. These challenges include:
- struggling to answer phones and mobiles quickly
- forgetting to mention health problems
- missing important information, or relying on body language and lipreading due to hearing problems
- difficulty seeing the digits on a mobile
- missing important elements of a telehealth call due to cognitive or health problems
- fear of costs for those on limited income
- lacking the technology to receive scripts and reminder text messages
- lacking the computers, cameras and speakers required for online consultations, and fearing this type of technology
- difficulty understanding how to pay for online and telehealth appointments.
Anita also spoke about the challenges of scanning QR Codes (a pandemic health tracking system) for people with any type of mobility issues, or for those people who don’t have a mobile device capable of using this app.
Anita summarised COTA’s concerns for older people given there is an increasing push towards digital health rather than patient-centred care.
‘We’re worried that people will miss out on important medical appointments, services and information and their health will decline. This ends up being not cost-effective at all!’
To watch a recording of the Health Issues event, go to The Digital World of Health Care.