Barriers to and Facilitators of Older People’s Engagement With Web-Based Services: Qualitative Study of Adults Aged >75 Years

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Abstract

Background:
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the shift toward the digital provision of many public services, including health and social care, public administration, and financial and leisure services. COVID-19 services including test appointments, results, vaccination appointments and more were primarily delivered through digital channels to the public. Many social, cultural, and economic activities (appointments, ticket bookings, tax and utility payments, shopping, etc) have transitioned to web-based platforms. To use web-based public services, individuals must be digitally included. This is influenced by 3 main factors: access (whether individuals have access to the internet), ability (having the requisite skills and confidence to participate over the web), and affordability (ability to pay for infrastructure [equipment] and data packages). Many older adults, especially those aged >75 years, are still digitally excluded.

Objective:
This study aims to explore the views of adults aged >75 years on accessing public services digitally.

Methods:
We conducted semistructured qualitative interviews with a variety of adults aged ≥75 years residing in Greater Manchester, United Kingdom. We also interviewed community support workers. Thematic analysis was used to identify the key themes from the data.

Results:
Overall, 24 older adults (mean age 81, SD 4.54 y; 14/24, 58% female; 23/24, 96% White British; and 18/24, 75% digitally engaged to some extent) and 2 support workers participated. A total of five themes were identified as key in understanding issues around motivation, engagement, and participation: (1) “initial motivation to participate digitally”—for example, maintaining social connections and gaining skills to be able to connect with family and friends; (2) “narrow use and restricted activity on the web”—undertaking limited tasks on the web and in a modified manner, for example, limited use of web-based public services and selected use of specific services, such as checking but never transferring funds during web-based banking; (3) “impact of digital participation on well-being”—choosing to go to the shops or general practitioner’s surgery to get out of the house and get some exercise; (4) “the last generation?”—respondents feeling that there were generational barriers to adapting to new technology and change; and (5) “making digital accessible”—understanding the support needed to keep those engaged on the web.

Conclusions:
As we transition toward greater digitalization of public services, it is crucial to incorporate the perspectives of older people. Failing to do so risks excluding them from accessing services they greatly rely on and need.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere46522
JournalJMIR Aging
Volume7
Early online date14 Feb 2024
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 28 Feb 2024

Keywords

  • digital exclusion
  • digital inclusion
  • older people
  • technology
  • aged
  • web-based
  • internet

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