Because we primarily work with ortho, spine, and neuro practices, we often talk to practices whose patients tend to fall into the “senior” category. This is especially true for practices that focus on joint replacements and degenerative spinal conditions.
When a practice primarily serves older patients, we’ll often hear phrases like, “We don’t need to worry about online marketing. We get most of our patients through word of mouth,” or “Our patients don’t really go online.” While that may have been the case 10 years ago, recent data indicates that seniors’ online habits are changing.
A growing number of older patients are going online for a variety of reasons. Let’s take a look at the latest stats and find out what your practice can do to reach these patients online.
Are Senior Patients Actually Going Online?
According to some recent studies, the answer is “yes.” In most cases, “seniors” are defined as those aged 65 and older. The key thing to remember here is that each year, a new group of patients is aging into that senior population. And, as a 2019 study by the Nielsen Norman Group points out, that means that each new group of seniors (whom some are calling the “young-old seniors”) has a higher level of experience with digital tools and technology than the group before them. Your senior patients from 5-10 years ago may not have had much experience with the internet, computers, smartphones, etc., but this new younger group of seniors have likely had to use at least some of this technology for work or personal use.
In fact, the study noted that as of 2019, 73% of seniors were connected to the internet. The average senior is using the internet for many of the same reasons younger people do: to stay connected with others, pay bills, order groceries and other necessities, read the news, and get map directions. The study also noted that from 2011 to 2016, the number of smartphone users over the age of 65 quadrupled. Five years later, that number is likely to have only increased.
More recently, the pandemic has been a huge driver of online activity among seniors. As we all know, seniors are among the high-risk groups for COVID-19. In an effort to minimize their risk of contracting the virus, many seniors have made an effort to stay home as much as possible. They still needed essential items like groceries and medications, though, and more frequently turned to technology to avoid leaving the house. A February 2021 article by the Associated Press states that Americans aged 65 and older made online purchases averaging $187 per month in 2020, up 60% from 2019.
What Does That Mean for Seniors’ Online Health Behavior?
As seniors get more comfortable doing everyday things like communicating, paying bills, and ordering groceries online, they will naturally get more comfortable with handling their healthcare needs online. The pandemic may have been a catalyst for seniors’ rapid adoption of online behaviors, but senior behavior was always going to move in this direction as more people age into the senior population, and more seniors become technologically savvy.
An August 2020 article on MobiHealthNews details the results of a survey of senior patients by healthinsurance.com. The study focused on how COVID-19 impacted senior patients’ use of technology, and it revealed some interesting statistics:
- More than 40% of senior patients said they had used telemedicine since the start of the pandemic, and seniors’ overall use of telemedicine increased by 300%.
- Of the seniors who said they did not use telemedicine, 68% said it was because they didn’t need to.
- 43% of senior patients plan to continue using telemedicine after the pandemic is over.
- 34% of senior patients order prescriptions online.
So, what do all of these stats mean for your practice? If a large percentage of senior patients are comfortable with using telemedicine and ordering prescriptions online, you can bet that they’re going online to research doctors before making an appointment, even if they were referred by a friend or family member. They might even be booking those appointments online. Is your practice well-positioned to get in front of those senior patients online? This includes things like making sure your website is informative, easy to use, and ranking for key search terms. It also includes elements outside of your website, like map listings and online reviews.
Tech-savvy senior patients aren’t the anomaly they once were. They are becoming the new norm. The easier you can make it for this key patient group to find you and get the care they need, the better.
Want to Hear More About How Senior Patients Behave Online?
We recently did an episode on this topic for our Paradigm Shift of Healthcare podcast! If you’d like to learn more, listen to Episode 91: Connecting With Senior Patients Online.