Senior male talking on smartphone while seated at table. Laptop is on table in front of him.
(Credit: Paul Sutherland / Getty Images)

When older adults become more familiar and comfortable with online and digital tools, the odds of their health improving increase.

Older adults have a powerful new tool to help them connect online with care providers, and it cuts 6% off of the cost of care. The Papa digital health companionship platform now is brandishing a new digital health literacy feature.

As part of the new feature, Papa assesses members’ social needs, including facets such as their internet access and online literacy. Then, an in-home visit between the member and a Papa Pal, a kind of nonmedical caregiver, takes place.

After the initial visit, follow-ups allow the caregivers to make sure the member’s needs are being met over time. Finally, Papa provides a report on each step of the process so that health plans can track the program’s effectiveness.

“Having a trusted companion sit side-by-side with members to guide them through new technology is invaluable and often the key to success, particularly when working with older populations,” Andrew Parker, founder and CEO of Papa, said in a statement announcing the upgrade last week. “It’s past time we address the technological barriers that exist in getting people the care they so desperately need.”

The vast majority of Medicare Advantage plans offer telehealth services as a benefit, but many older adults have a difficult time using these services to their fullest potential, according to Papa. Almost 3 in 4 older adults reportedly need help setting up and using new devices, whereas about 15% of Papa members request technological assistance when they enroll in the company’s standard companionship program. Those statistics demonstrate the need for a program to improve members’ digital health literacy, Papa said.

The company predicts $242 can be saved per care episode for members using the new digital literacy feature. Many of those patients are unable to use telehealth services and instead rely on more costly resources such as emergency department services. The $242 represents a 6% savings in the cost of care.

In recent years, Papa has focused on addressing members’ social determinants of health as a means of reducing costs and improving health outcomes. Services such as caregiver-assisted technological support can not only improve outcomes; it can advance health equity, the company noted.

“Leveraging our national network of Papa Pals and expert social care navigators, Papa’s digital health literacy offering ensures members have the proper resources and support to stay connected with their care teams and mental health resources, no matter their race, age or economic standing,” Parker said.