Abstract

Many believe that in the future, patients will be expected to be actively involved in managing their own care. Older adults seem willing to use personal computers to locate health information. This study found that increased willingness, however, does not translate into active self-care by seniors or use of the Internet when making important health care decisions. Background: Many believe that in the future, patients will be expected to be actively involved in managing their own care. To become independent consumers of health care, patients will need to find and learn new information. This information will most likely be available and accessible via the Internet. The purpose of this study was to examine whether training elderly patients to use the Internet would lead to changes in perceptions of their health, perceptions of their interactions with health care providers, health-information seeking behaviours, and self-care activities.

Methods: Study participants completed a 5-week training program that was designed to teach seniors how to use the Internet to find and use health information. The goals of the instruction were to encourage seniors to learn more about their health problems, and to evaluate and take a more active role in managing their care. At the completion of the 5-week training session and again after one year, participants completed a series of standardized tests measuring a variety of factors related to their health status, their perception of control over their own health and wellness, and Internet use to find health information.

Findings: After one year, seniors reported an increased willingness to use the Internet to locate health information. Despite this change in attitude, study participants did not use the Internet before or after meeting with a health care provider (i.e., personal involvement with care). This result suggests that training programs aimed at seniors do not increase the level of involvement in personal care, defined by use of the Internet. In addition, participants reported that the Internet did not necessarily help them manage either their health concern or chronic condition. Consequently, it appears that participants were not using information found on the Internet to collaborate with their physicians in decisions pertaining to their personal health care.

A total of 42 participants (81% women) completed the 5-week Internet training. The average age of the participants was 72 years, and 81% reported that they were retired.

Conclusions: Older adults seem willing to use the Internet to locate health information. This increased willingness, however, did not translate into increased active involvement in managing their own care or to use of the Internet when making important health care decisions. The results of this study suggest that when developing Internet training programs, programs targeted for senior citizens may not be an effective use of health care resources.

Reference: Campbell RJ, Nofli DA. "Teaching elderly adults to use the Internet to access health care information: Before-after study". Journal of Medical Internet Research, 2005; 7: e19.