Chronic disease patients are taking a more active approach to managing their health by using interactive web 2.0 technologies. Web 2.0 technologies are highly participatory and have great potential for keeping older patients connected and informed. Chronic disease patients are using the Internet to seek information to improve their condition and make health decisions (6
). Approximately 75% of all e-patients with a chronic condition reported that a previous health information search contributed to a decision about how to treat an ailment, and 69% said that the information prompted new questions to ask doctors (6
). Use of the Internet continues to rise among older adults (age ≥65); in fact, significant increases have been noted in the last decade (7
). According to a 2009 US Census report, however, only 42% of older adults actively access the Internet, and just 53% live in households with Internet access (8
). Given the less than optimal frequency of Internet use, Hughes et al (9
) advocate for "the use of a specific set of [web 2.0] tools by actors in health care including doctors, patients, and scientists, using principles of open source and generation of content by users, and the power of networks in order to personalize health care, collaborate, and promote health education."
A rise in Internet use by e-patients has paralleled a rise in social networking among older adults (10
). A 2010 survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project noted that 26% of older adults who used the Internet reported using social media (eg, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter), up 13% from 2009. This growth is expected to continue (10
). The use of social media encourages information sharing and increased connectivity among older adults, which offers chronic disease patients new and valuable channels for social support and patient engagement (10
). The incorporation of social networking applications in public health has increased the potential for more remote, shared decision making and more effective, tailored health information dissemination. For example, HealthTap offers secure mobile access to a social network of more than 5,000 physicians where patients can ask questions about their health concerns and receive customized answers from health care experts. Another social networking site, PatientsLikeMe, connects patients with other patients to share treatment information and experiences for common illnesses and disorders.
Researchers are beginning to examine which psychosocial and structural barriers prevent older adults from using the Internet. A study from the Center for Research and Education on Aging and Technology Enhancement found that some older adults have anxiety and low self-efficacy with computers and the Internet (11
). Furthermore, Morrell et al found that lack of access to technology and lack of knowledge were primary reasons older adults did not use the Internet (12
). In light of these research findings, training programs should be developed to reduce the anxiety older adults may feel about retrieving online health information and also increase demand for online health information by reducing barriers to access.