Insights: Health apps – an opportunity for digital inclusion?

One way of demonstrating the benefits of the internet to the frail

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Louise Rogerson Photo

As we develop our work for those with long term conditions and the older population we are often asked about the challenge of this group accessing internet and mobile technology.

Our workshops across the course of both the frailty and COPD workshops have been very instructive for us, and have challenged some of the preconceived ideas about this group.

At each event there has been a proportion of individuals who do not access the internet, I would like to share a story from the COPD group.

One of the ladies, we will call her Margaret, was 80 years of age and had never attempted to use a tablet device or smartphone, she only had an old mobile phone.  During the session, Margaret was shown the app, and although initially reluctant, she did have a go at entering her symptoms for the day and leave a message.  Very quickly, Margaret was able to navigate the app and make use of all the functions – more importantly she was delighted with the tablet device.

The conversation developed and Margaret asked further questions about the internet and what other functions the tablet device could offer.  As Margaret left the room she was asking her son to help her set up internet access at home and then to get a tablet.  Margaret was genuinely excited about using the technology at home.

A key reflection for me is that those who have used computers in the past often struggle with the intuitive nature of the tablet device, but those that have never really got used to a computer find tablets very easy to interact with.

Using a health application to demonstrate the accessibility of the internet may be another route to digital inclusion for this group.  Of the 6 individuals who had never used the internet, 3 of them left the room with a plan to get online at home.  Health applications that have the potential to reduce the perceived burden for families are a strong reason for this group to have a go, and from there they can explore other facilities the internet has to offer.  This route to inclusion should be exploited as we roll out more services online which offer benefits to the older population.

We have recently joined the Age Action Alliance as we believe we can share some effective learning through their digital inclusion project.  Across the UK there are a number of initiatives to make these services more accessible for older adults and those not yet connected, but without relevant and useful applications this group may well struggle to stay engaged with the technology.  From this workshop we believe our How are you today? COPD app does offer something that this group can work with and find useful.