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Help older COPD patients bridge the digital divide


Patient HealthTech can only improve care if patients are effectively using it.
As seniors have key issues, read our insider tips to help them overcome.

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Health technologies—from smart phones, apps, and wearables to platforms such as telehealth, eHealth, and mHealth—are already transforming healthcare. They’re changing the way institutions function, how care teams manage illness and wellness, and how patients engage, receive and take an active role in their care.


Specific to COPD, health technologies have been shown to help1


  • Drive patient self-management
  • Enhance quality of life
  • Improve outcomes


Successful use of technologies, however, requires that the individuals they are intended to serve are able to adopt them. While this creates a universal challenge, research suggests it may actually be a particular issue for patients living with COPD.


This highlights an extraordinary need for COPD care teams to proactively manage issues before they derail care. But before discussing how to help seniors, let’s take a closer look at the issues they’re having.


Chris Landon

Chris Landon, MD, FAAP, FCCP, CMD

Director of Pediatrics, Ventura County Medical Center,

Associate Medical Director of Pediatric Diagnostic Center, and CEO of Landon Pediatric Foundation

Understanding the barriers to technology adoption

Lack of comfort2

According to a survey from the Pew Research Center on using computers, smartphones, and other electronic devices, seniors aged ≥65 report:


feel very comfortable


are only a little comfortable


are not at all comfortable

Considering the amount of technology being given to this audience, these numbers are alarmingly low. Furthermore, 73% said they were either “very” or “somewhat” likely to need someone else to set up an electronic device or show them how to use it.

Lack of instructions and guidance3

According to a study published in Frontiers of Psychology, a focus group was conducted among older adults to better understand what would help improve their user experiences with a digital device.


  • A common issue was: manuals are written without the customer in mind. They are frequently perceived as “written by the techies, not users.” This technical uncertainty on behalf of patients can further drive reluctancy to adopt the technology.

Lack of confidence3


In that same study, a consistent position was, “I don't know how to do all these fancy things... I feel a bit inadequate sometimes.” This lack of confidence was a consistent critical issue to overcome.

Dimensionalizing the digital divide

Digital divide graphic

The age-related digital divide4


According to the CDC, the average age range of patients diagnosed with COPD is about 66-75 years of age. A study conducted by the Pew Research Center indicates that while seniors are increasing their use of digital devices, they often act and feel disconnected from the digital revolution. This illuminates the need to coach and guide them through using unfamiliar technology and applications.

The process-related digital divide5


In his article Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants, Marc Prensky (2001) created a term to describe those born before the technology age (digital immigrants) and those born after (digital natives). According to Prensky, a primary difference between the groups is the way each processes information. Digital immigrants tend to be slower and more linear—an important distinction when considering ways to help older adults adopt new technologies. 

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The health-related digital divide6


A study entitled, ”The Association Between Technology Use and Health Status in a COPD Cohort,” was recently published April 2018 in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

The study found that participants with more severe diseases were:

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to be targeted with eHealth-based interventions, but

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to report the use of technology

We have to understand our patients. What are they worried about? What are their fears? What is it they are trying to do? If we don’t engage with them based on this information, it doesn’t matter what technology we use.”

Roy Rosin

Chief Innovation Officer, Penn Medicine

Opportunity is now2


According to the Pew Research Center Report, seniors, despite their reluctance to adopt new health technologies, are showing promise:


rise in smartphone use (approximately) among seniors since 2013


of 65- to 69-year-olds are internet users, and two-thirds say they have broadband internet connections at home


of Americans ages ≥65 use social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter, representing a 7-point increase from 2013


of seniors say they own tablet computers, which represents a double-digit increase in tablet ownership since 2013


of seniors ages ≥65 now report owning smartphones

In a previous COPD insider article entitled, “3 ways to optimize quality of care by managing quality of life,” we learn that when technology is used to help patients with COPD enhance QOL in a meaningful way, outcomes are more likely to improve.


The article featured Chris Landon, MD, FAAP, FCCP, CMD and Director of Pediatrics at Ventura County Medical Center who shared his enthusiasm about the use of mobile technologies at a poster presentation held during a recent CHEST conference. The poster highlighted the results of a trial involving an interactive mobile health information service that delivered personalized, text-based messages to patients with COPD.


The results of the intervention showed that the participating patients were able to7

  • Improve their BMIs
  • Reduce the incidence or severity of depression
  • Attend more healthcare appointments

We believe consumer health technologies—apps, wearables, self-diagnosis tools—have the potential to strengthen the patient-physician connection and improve health outcomes.”

Dr. Glen Stream


Family Medicine for America’s Health

How to overcome seniors’ barriers to technology


The study from Frontiers of Psychology highlighted a key takeaway: the majority of participants were amenable to adopting new technology.3


And according to the survey from the Pew Research Center, seniors also reported being more likely to ask for help using their technology devices.2 This opens up a tremendous opportunity to help close the digital divide for your patients.


Christopher Leech, Manager of Resident Technology and Innovation at a senior center, blogs tech tips for his growing list of followers. In a recent post, “10 Tips for Teaching Technology to Seniors,” Christopher shares some of his best advice.


Ten tips for teaching technology to seniors8

Number 1 icon

Build on existing knowledge

Compare a new technology concept with something the senior is already familiar with.

Number 2 icon

Explain the relevance before going into detail

Show how the senior might benefit first before explaining the mechanics.

Number 3 icon

Avoid technical words and use consistent language

Be mindful of the words you use. Many tech-related terms may be unfamiliar.


Number 4 icon

Watch your pace

Remind yourself not to move too quickly when introducing a senior to technology.

Number 5 icon

Repeat key concepts

Repeat to reinforce the most important takeaways.

Number 6 icon

Make time for questions

Be sure seniors have the time to ask questions before moving to new concepts. 

Number 7 icon

Practice new tech skills

Don’t intervene. Allow the senior to practice feeling the tactile nuances involved in tapping, clicking, and button-pressing.

Number 8 icon

Encourage use of resources  

Resources such as TechBoomers and AARPTek offer excellent free tech tutorials designed specifically for seniors.

Number 9 icon

Make it OK to be confused

But help them feel confident that they will learn.

Number 10 icon

Create opportunities to “wow”

Show the senior’s childhood home on Google Earth or FaceTiming with a close friend they haven’t seen in years.

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When used responsibly, technology can help us provide more efficient and effective patient-centered care for our patients. It shouldn’t replace human contact, but rather enhance it.”

Dr. Glen Stream


Family Medicine for America’s Health

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1.Himes B., Weitzman E. Innovations in health information technologies for chronic pulmonary diseases. Respir Res: 2016;17:38. Accessed May 31, 2018.

2.Anderson M., Perrin A. Pew Research Report. April 17, 2018. Tech Adoption Climbs Among Older Adults. Roughly two-thirds of those ages 65 and older go online and a record share now own smartphones – although many seniors remain relatively divorced from digital life Accessed May 31, 2018.

3.Vaportizis E, et al.  Front Psychol. 2017;8:1687. Older Adults Perceptions of Technology and Barriers Interacting with Tablet Computers: A Focus Group Study. Accessed May 31, 2018.

4.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). Accessed May 31, 2018.

5.Cunningham B. Nacada Clearing House. Digital Native or Digital Immigrant,

Which Language Do You Speak? Accessed May 31, 2018.

6.Witry M, Comellas A, Simmering J, Polgreen P. The Association Between Technology Use and Health Status in a Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Cohort: Multi-Method Study. J Med Internet Res 2018;20(4):e125.

7.Landon, C. Poster: Evaluation of mHealth Intervention in COPD-CareMessage. Accessed May 30, 2018.

8.Leech C. Brookdale Senior Living. Tech Tips for Teaching Seniors. Accessed May 31, 2018.

All content on this site is for informational and educational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice of your doctor or other health care professional. Always seek the advice of your physician or other health care provider with any questions you may have about any medical condition.  Refer to the Terms of Use for additional information.

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