Past studies suggest older adults have been using the Internet more frequently as a source for health information. Surveys from the Pew Internet and American Life Project, for example, indicate that an increasing number of older adults are using the Internet to find online health information. It is difficult, however, to determine how much interest the general older adult population has in e-health or online health programs. This is particularly true for individuals 76 and better, and for people with multiple chronic conditions, as both of these groups are less likely to be Internet users. A survey of older adults at a Veterans Administration health clinic suggests that older patients, even those 75 and better with multiple chronic conditions, are interested in using the Internet to find health care information (Crabb, Rafie, and Weingardt, 2011).
The researchers surveyed 50 VA patients 65 and better, by conducting a brief interview following a clinic visit. Researchers asked about demographic and health information, as well as Internet use. Unlike many studies of Internet use, this study did not exclude individuals due to legal blindness or mild cognitive impairments. Participants had a mean age of 80.3 years, and a mean number of 12.3 active medical problems. This study is noteworthy among research on Internet use, then, for including an older, more health-challenged population than prior studies.
Higher rates of Internet use across age groups and health status were found; for example, over half of study participants 85 years and better reported frequent Internet use. As in other findings, the majority of Internet users in this study used the Internet for health care information purposes, including medical and lifestyle (diet and exercise) information. Overall, the study found that most of older adult patients were regular Internet users, and that most of them were interested in going online to obtain health information as well as manage their health care.
This study is relevant for future research because the sample population was provided online health care management options, such as the My HealtheVet program. Thus, while this sample is not representative of the general older adult population, it is a population that has been provided with e-health programming and encouraged to use it. This encouragement and provision of e-health is increasing among the general older adult population, and is expected to rise.
In conclusion, the study suggests that if e-health services are provided to the older adult population, they may be widely used by individuals 85 and better as well as by individuals with multiple medical conditions.