The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the usefulness of remote healthcare for older adults. A new study suggests that frail older adults are good candidates for digital technology training and support to further improve their access to these resources.

Physicians researchers examined data for more than 4,500 Kaiser Permanente Northern California health plan members aged 65 to 90, who were surveyed in 2014 and 2015. They found that frail older adults were less likely to access and use digital information technologies for health-related purposes than non-frail adults. Frail study participants also used relatively fewer web‐based health resources and said they were less interested in using online modalities for healthcare advice.

However, despite participants’ apparent resistance to or difficulty accessing online help, investigators also found that frail adults who used the internet either alone or with help were more likely to obtain web‐based health information and advice. Although this finding might not explain their preferences, it may explain why some of these elders quickly have adapted to virtual care during the COVID‐19 pandemic, wrote study lead David R. Lee M.D., MBA, of Kaiser Permanente Oakland Medical Center, Oakland, CA.

The findings also underscore the need to continue addressing barriers to gaining web‐based health information and advice, the authors contend. These may include cognitive impairment, physical limitations, and socioeconomic factors, they wrote. 

“For example, as part of telehealth expansion, healthcare systems might consider providing frail older adults who are not online with digital devices, internet access, and training and support to facilitate their use of remote care” similar to what schools do for remote learners, they concluded.

The study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.