Web search confusion reduces seniors’ access to home care resources, study finds

Navigating online resources can be tricky for many older adults. Oftentimes, the best sources of information on home care, such as Medicare’s Care Compare, do not rise to the top of search engine results. This reality makes it more difficult for older adults to access the care they need, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

The researchers used Google to search common questions related to home care, such as, “How to qualify for home healthcare under Medicare?” or “Who qualifies for home health care services?” They found that 31% of the top search results for these questions directed to government websites and only 9% directed to academic sources. Government and academic sources were found to contain higher-quality information about home-based care, the study noted. Meanwhile, the majority of search results were for commercial providers and insurers, which are neither required nor incentivized by law to provide useful information about home care.

Regardless of the source, almost all websites related to home care were judged to be fairly difficult for the average American to read and understand, according to the study.

Those in the home care industry agree.

“It’s tough for even online-savvy families to navigate care options, and it’s even tougher for those who aren’t as savvy,” Brandi Kurtyka, CEO of MissionCare Collective, the umbrella organization of mycnajobs.com, a caregiver job searching site, told McKnight’s Home Care in an email. “The complexity of understanding the different types of care, the associated costs and the available options can be overwhelming, especially for someone doing it for the first time.”

One of the most important resources to help older adults navigate home care, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ Care Compare, was not among the top 165 results yielded by the researchers’ Google searches. Part of the issue is that sites such as Care Compare lack effective search engine optimization, which prevents them from rising to the top of search engine results, the investigators said.

“Governmental sites, although accurate, don’t rank well in search results and aren’t always intuitive. This leaves families struggling to find reliable information,” Kurtyka said. “Many payers already have care navigators in place. The opportunity lies in offering a resource that families can call without being sold something. They need a place to get unbiased, comprehensive information to make informed decisions about care.”

The McKnight’s Tech Daily is an e-newsletter for the audiences of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News, McKnight’s Senior Living and McKnight’s Home Care.