Telehealth For Seniors: How Telemedicine Serves an Aging Population

Is telehealth serving older adults or leaving them behind?

Is telehealth serving older adults or leaving them behind?

On its surface, telehealth improves accessibility, encourages continuity of care, and reduces the risk of unnecessary exposure to infections. However, ensuring that aging adults reap the benefits of telehealth is not without challenges - a fact that drives many providers and facilities to delay the incorporation of remote monitoring solutions that support telemedicine.r

So, just how resistant are older adults to telehealth? How difficult is it for an aging population to access smartphones, high-speed internet, and Wi-Fi to utilize telehealth tools, like remote patient visits and monitoring?

Let's take a closer look to find out.

Embracing Telehealth in Facilities

Perhaps the easiest transition point is in incorporating telehealth-based solutions within facilities. In this environment, individuals maintain 24-hour access to healthcare providers but can also evaluate the feasibility of a remote monitoring device.

According to Rural Health Information Hub, "Many rural communities are implementing telehealth programs for older adults in skilled nursing facilities in order to decrease hospitalizations and increase access to care for older adults with complex healthcare needs." This decision allows facilities and caregivers to better serve their most vulnerable populations, even during times of staffing shortages.

COVID-19 Gave Telehealth Momentum

According to the University of Michigan, one in four older Americans had a virtual visit in the first three months of the pandemic; prior to the pandemic, only about 4% of Americans over 50 had ever had a virtual visit with a doctor. Comparative polls conducted by the University of Michigan's Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation with support from AARP and Michigan Medicine in 2019 and 2020, found that the percentage of individuals, ages 50 to 80, who are comfortable with video conferencing technologies rose from 53% to 64%. The number of those same individuals who are interested in using telehealth after a procedure or operation rose from 55% to 63%.

What is also interesting to note is that the percentage of older adults who have concerns about hearing or seeing the doctor during a telehealth visit decreased from 39% to 25%. 

The aging population is moving towards telehealth, not away.

Ensuring Equitable Access

The rise of telehealth uncovered a broadband gap throughout the United States and led to the development of the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). The ACP is a government program that helps low-income households pay for internet service and connected devices. Supported by the Humana Foundation and Older Adults Technology Services from AARP (OATS), the program has been working since 2018 to connect one million seniors to the internet by 2022. In addition to providing low-cost service options, the program offers technology classes designed for older adults.

This initiative highlights and solves the most common barriers in providing telehealth services to older adults: 

  • Communicating the value of broadband access to increase adoption
  • Working with policy-makers to treat lack of connectivity as a social equality issue to better bridge the broadband gap
  • Expanding  access to low-cost options to ensure accessibility
  • Educating older adults on digital health, social engagement, and financial security to alleviate fears

Providing High-Value Monitoring Devices

Telemedicine is best served when healthcare providers continue to have access to reliable vital statistic data – such as the individual's sleep patterns, body temperature, and respiratory and cardiac activity. During an office visit, the practitioner would likely assess some of these areas in-person and use the information to make a determination about the person's health and treatment needs. 

During a virtual visit, the healthcare provider relies on the individual to effectively communicate how they are feeling and to accurately describe symptoms. In the absence of a remote monitoring device, the provider must rely on that information to make healthcare determination. 

Reliable, remote monitoring devices not only provide real-time data during a virtual visit, they also allow the entire healthcare team to review data captured over extended periods of times to identify trends and recognize the early warning signs of certain conditions. 

CareMate is a non-invasive, reusable, discreet remote monitoring device that captures vital statistics and even provides fall detection and alerts. The data can be shared with medical providers, healthcare workers, and friends and family – as determined by individual needs. Healthcare workers can access CareMate data for all of their wearers in a streamlined, customizable dashboard that continuously updates to keep the most urgent needs at the top of the list.

Supported by programs that increase accessibility and devices that provide robust remote monitoring, telehealth ensures that everyone, especially aging adults, reaps significant health benefits.

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