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Shift to e-health locks out older Australians

Seniors risk being left behind in the move to a digital environment.

More than 40 per cent of older Australians say the internet is too expensive, leaving them at risk of being shut off from health and other online services.

A new survey suggests seniors, and particularly pensioners, risk being left behind as businesses and governments shift more services online.

In particular, there could be serious negative impacts for those without internet access to obtain their health records from Australia’s new e-health record system from next year or to be cared for at home.

Queensland University of Technology researcher Sandra Haukka interviewed 149 seniors aged 50 and older from across the nation.

Haukka found 53 per cent of participants had a moderate or above interest in the internet, while 46 per cent put their interest as low or nil.

Two thirds of respondents rated their internet skills as very low, and more than 40 per cent said cost was a barrier to using the internet.

One third said the internet would improve their daily life.

Haukka's work included in-depth interviews with seniors who did not use, or rarely used, the internet including those in urban, regional, rural and remote areas.

"With the government and private sector spending billions on the National Broadband Network, we have to make sure that the internet can be used by all those who need it the most," Haukka said.

She said society's increasing reliance on the internet for commerce and services was leaving older Australians with low web skills unable to conduct business transactions, access services, find out about community events or use the internet to communicate with friends and family.

"While many participants thought that logging on will have little impact on their lives, in the near future they will be under great pressure to stay in their homes longer to reduce the strain on the government's health budget caused by the ageing population," Haukka said.

"The internet should help people to live independently for longer, enabling them to learn, bank, shop, communicate and network from home.

Haukka said it was clear many seniors wanted help to join the online world.

"Many seniors told us they need one-on-one help, more cheap classes, equipment, a help line and clear instructions," Haukka said.

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