The number of 65- to 74-year-olds using the internet has rapidly increased in the past year, probably due to the rise in tablet computer use, according to Ofcom. The regulator has found that the number of people over 65 accessing the internet has risen to 42%, and the proportion of people using a tablet to do this rose from 5 per cent to 17% between 2012 and 2013.
This could have implications for the ways in which healthcare is delivered to older adults in the community. As more and more people start regularly accessing the internet, the barriers to the success of telecare and telehealth are being removed. Skype and other video-call software offers opportunities for communicating with older adults without having to physically be in the same room, bringing increased flexibility to patients and the healthcare professionals providing their care (in many cases district nurses). Many community and district nurses are already using workforce planning software on tablets to update patient notes immediately, access multidisciplinary/clinic-based colleagues and access clinical information online but there are opportunities for more innovative use.
The fact that greater numbers of older people are getting online is also good news for them. It offers a way of anchoring themselves with the world around them, partially alleviating isolation and loneliness. The Ofcom report found that the internet was largely used by those over 65 years of age to access emails or browse the internet, both activities that help us feel in touch with other people and culture/events. It is a way of people keeping in touch with the things they once enjoyed.
Telecare and telehealth are supplementary to traditionally delivered care, but the flexibility and independence they can offer could prove invaluable for patients and clinicians alike.