Tel: (613) 549-6666 x 7984 Kidd House, 100 Stuart Street Kingston, ON K7L 3N6
Technology and health care for the elderly medical research studies

Focus on strategic priorities that have significant social impact.

KS 2014-07

Communication Technologies for Engaging Patients, Families and Caregivers in the Health Care System: A Scoping Review

This review was conducted in collaboration with the National Initiative for the Care of the Elderly (NICE). The project team included researchers and community organizations from a variety of professions and disciplines who have been working together to develop user-friendly tools for improving the health and well-being of older adults and their caregivers.

Research Results

Findings: A total of 69 articles were reviewed. The majority of studies considered the use of web-based platforms (n=21), specialized technologies (n=14) and mobile phones (n=18). Fewer studies focused on electronic health records (n=8), social media (n=2), email (n=2), Skype (n=1) and health information technologies in general (n=3). The majority of studies considered experiential outcomes in the use of the technology (n=38), followed by investigations into the clinical outcomes of the technology use (n=21). Fewer studies considered users’ attitudes and perspectives about the technologies in question (n=10). The review suggested that new communication technologies can indeed be used to improve engagement with the healthcare system, even amongst frail older adults. A number of studies demonstrated positive clinical outcomes across different technologies and purposes. Some studies suggested that new communication technologies could have positive impacts on healthcare resource utilization. Technology design and usability was an important aspect to attitudes towards and uptake of the technologies. Lack of experience with these technologies had various impacts on uptake of the technologies. Concerns about privacy and security of personal/medical data were also raised.

Impact of findings: This study led to areas for future research identified included the use of social media applications in particular and the perspectives and experiences of caregivers’ use of new communication technologies. Future research might consider how best to engage older adults in technology design and how to best achieve ‘buy-in’ from older adults’ social networks and healthcare practitioners to support the use of technology. The review has shown that new communication technologies are a viable option for improving engagement with healthcare systems but specific attention must be paid to older adults’ particular situations and how best to adapt technologies to those needs.

Publications, presentations and webinars

For more information on why this research matters, click the links below:

Policy        Families        Researchers

About the Project

New communication technologies—such as the Internet, social media applications and mobile and smartphones—offer exciting opportunities for promoting and improving health.

We proposed a scoping review of the literature about the use of such technologies to empower, engage and support seriously ill and/or frail older adult patients and their families and caregivers. This review mapped the literature in this area, identified current best practices and highlighted areas for future inquiry.

The findings from this review will be used to inform the work of CFN and develop innovative tools through NICE and in the team members’ respective organizations. The findings will also be used to foster new research projects to continue to investigate the best ways to use technology to support seriously ill older adults and their caregivers.

Objectives/Research Plan: The review was conducted by identifying the research questions; identifying the relevant studies; charting the data; and collating, summarizing and reporting the results. The research team included experts in care delivery, caregiving and technology drawn from the research, practice and community sectors. Articles were reviewed if they were published between January 2000 and December 2014; published in English; included analyses about an older adult (55+) population; and involved a “new” communication technology that facilitated some form of engagement with the healthcare system or provider.

Project Team

Principal Investigator:

Lynn McDonald, BA, MSW, PhD -- University of Toronto


Diane Buchanan, PhD, MScN, BScN, RN -- Queen’s University

Louise Demers, PhD -- Université de Montréal

Esme Fuller-Thomson, PhD -- University of Toronto

Karen Kobayashi, PhD -- University of Victoria

Daniel Lai, PhD, RSW -- University of Calgary

Lynn McCleary, PhD, MSc, BScN -- Brock University

Knowledge Users and Partners:

Nicole Beben -- Saint Elizabeth Health Care

Queenie Choo, C.E.O. -- S.U.C.C.E.S.S.

David Conn, MB, BCh, BAO, FRCPC -- Canadian Coalition for Seniors’ Mental Health

Barry Goldlist, MD, FRCPC, FACP, AGSF -- Mount Sinai Hospital

Barb MacLean, Executive Director -- Family Caregivers’ Network Society

Samantha Peck, Program Director (Communications and Education) -- Family Councils’ Program

Maryse Savoie, MSc -- Veterans Affairs Canada, St. Anne’s Hospital

Caroline Tapp-McDougall, Vice-President -- Canada Cares

Tricia Woo, MD, MSc FRCPC -- McMaster University

Project Contact: Lynn McDonald --

KS 2014-07

Key words: Internet; social media; engagement; caregiving; healthcare