Telehealth and older patients
While many older Americans are comfortable accessing telehealth services, others may benefit from step-by-step guidance or support from a family member or caregiver to help them initiate and participate in a telehealth visit.
The benefits of virtual visits for older patients and their caregivers include:
- Fewer trips outside of the home
- Less exposure to illnesses
- Better chances of being seen sooner
- No additional cost
Telehealth access for older patients
Telehealth offers a convenient and cost-effective way to deliver health care services to older adults who may have substantial health care needs or mobility and transportation limitations that make getting to a health care provider’s office difficult.
Information on Telehealth.HHS.gov includes information to help older adults access telehealth. Older adults may be less comfortable using a computer or smartphone or experience physical or cognitive barriers that reduce their ability to access telehealth such as limitations in hearing or vision or cognitive impairments. There are a growing number of resources available to help patients address hearing and visual limitations, including screen readers, voice-to-text programs, or programs with closed captioning options.
Implementation Considerations for Telehealth Programs Serving Older Adults — Rural Health Information Hub
Tackling Inequities in Digital Care (video) — Association of State and Territorial Health Officials
Preparing for telehealth appointments with older adults
Before a telehealth appointment with an older patient, it is a good idea to prepare. Below are some activities that can help make a telehealth visit with an older adult more successful.
Walk them through their home setup. Assign a staff member to contact the patient before the telehealth visit to walk through the process for starting the visit. Check to make sure the patient’s technology device is working by verifying they are connected to the internet and their phone is sufficiently charged. The staff member should also confirm if the patient’s device can be used for a video call.
Review technology basics. The staff member should also make sure the patient knows how to check into the telehealth visit, position their camera, check lighting, and adjust audio settings to the right volume and unmute.
Audio-only or phone-based telehealth appointments. May be necessary if the patient doesn’t have a device that supports video or has a slow WiFi connection. Audio-only appointments work well for:
- Follow up appointments
- Reviewing lab or test results
- Medication changes or refills
Enlist additional help from a caregiver or family member. Before the visit, ask your patient if they would like a family member or caregiver to participate and help during the appointment. A support person can assist in getting the patient online for their appointment, troubleshoot any technology challenges, and facilitate communication.
Best practices for treating older adults through telehealth
Here are a few tips to help older adults access health care through telehealth.
- Understand that your patients might not be digitally literate or have a basic understanding of how video calls work.
- Consider other non-video telehealth options such as phone calls or answering follow up questions via email.
- Allow extra time during the first few telehealth appointments with an older patient. They may need more time to figure out how to get online and logged into the video chat.
- Use remote monitoring devices such as blood pressure monitors, heart rate monitors, and continuous glucose monitors, which measure vital information such as cardiac conditions and diabetes, and could minimize the need for in-person visits.