An age-old problem or an old-age problem? A UK survey of attitudes, historical use and recommendations by healthcare professionals to use healthcare apps

BMC Geriatr. 2023 Feb 24;23(1):110. doi: 10.1186/s12877-023-03772-x.


Background: The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated barriers to accessing face-to-face care. Consequently, the potential for digital health technologies (DHTs) to address unmet needs has gained traction. DHTs may circumvent several barriers to healthy independent living, resulting in both socioeconomic and clinical benefits. However, previous studies have demonstrated these benefits may be disproportionately realised among younger populations while excluding older people.

Methods: We performed a prospective survey using the One Poll market research platform among 2000 adults from the United Kingdom. To mitigate against self-selection bias, participants were not informed of the topic of the survey until they had completed recruitment. We compared willingness to use and historical use of health-apps, in addition to recommendations to use health-apps from healthcare professionals; comparing outcomes across all age groups, including a reference group (n = 222) of those aged 18-24. Outcomes were analysed using multivariate logistic regression and reported as odds ratios (OR) with respondent age, ethnicity, gender, and location as covariates.

Results: Willingness to use health-apps decreased significantly with age, reaching a minimum (OR = 0.39) among those aged 65 and over compared to the reference group of 18-24 year olds. Despite this, more than 52% of those aged 65 and over were willing to use health-apps. Functions and features most cited as useful by older populations included symptom self-monitoring and surgery recovery assistance. The likelihood of never having used a health-app also increased consistently with age, reaching a maximum among those aged 65 and over (OR = 18.3). Finally, the likelihood of being recommended health-apps by a healthcare professional decreased significantly with age, (OR = 0.09) for those aged 65 and over. In absolute terms, 33.8% of those aged 18-24, and 3.9% of those aged 65 and over were recommended health-apps by their healthcare professionals.

Conclusion: Although absolute utilisation of health-apps decreases with age, the findings of this study suggest that the gap between those willing to use health-apps, and those being recommended health-apps by healthcare professionals increases with age. Given the increasing availability of evidence-based health-apps designed for older populations, this may result in entirely avoidable unmet needs, suggesting that more should be done by healthcare professionals to recommend health-apps to older persons who are generally positive about their use. This may result in considerable improvements in healthy and independent ageing.

Keywords: Ageing; Digital health; Equality; Equity; Geriatric; Healthcare apps; Old-age; Smartphone applications; mHealth.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Delivery of Health Care
  • Humans
  • Mobile Applications*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Telemedicine* / methods
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology