Telehealth and older patients
Many older Americans are tech savvy consumers who own smartphones and tablets. Yet some will need step-by-step guidance to log on for telehealth appointments . Others may need a family member or caregiver to help them fully participate.
Telehealth access for older patients
There are more than 54 million Americans aged 65 or older. They account for about 16 percent of the population. That figure is expected to rise to more than 21 percent by 2040.
Telehealth is one way to meet the substantial health care needs of this growing population. It is safe, it is convenient, and it is more cost effective for your patients who may have mobility and transportation concerns that make getting to the office difficult.
Implementation Considerations for Telehealth Programs Serving Older Adults — Rural Health Information Hub
Tackling Inequities in Digital Care — Association of State and Territorial Health Officials
How to prepare for telehealth appointments with older patients
Your older patients have the best chance of success with telehealth when your workflow includes pre-appointment preparations. Here are a few ways you can help your older patient population get online for telehealth visits:
Walk them through their home setup. Enlist a member of your staff to explain how virtual visits work. That staff member should also make sure your older patients have the basics for telehealth, including internet access and devices they can use for a video call.
Consider a phone-based telehealth appointment if necessary. If you need to check in with an older patient who does not have the resources for a video call, consider a phone call. Phone appointments work well for:
- Follow up appointments
- Lab or test results
- Medication changes or refills
Enlist the help of a caregiver or family member. Ask your patient if they need assistance with medical appointments. If they do not have the resources for a video call, ask them if they have a caregiver or a family member that can help them get online for their appointment.
Talk to your patient or their caregiver ahead of time to find out what assistive technology they may use to participate in telehealth. Hearing, vision or mobility impairments shouldn’t stand in the way of getting quality care through telehealth. Examples include screen readers, voice-to-text programs or programs with closed captioning options.
Talk to your patients or their caregivers about telehealth as a convenient option. For patients who aren’t tech savvy, the idea of virtual visits may seem overwhelming. Your older patients may need to hear about the benefits for them, including:
- Fewer trips outside of the home
- Less exposure to COVID-19 and other illness
- Better chances of being seen sooner
- No additional cost
Review and familiarize your staff with telehealth policies and billing for Medicare. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced a number of COVID-19 flexibilities and waivers for the COVID-19 public health emergency.
Medicare has also expanded coverage during the COVID-19 emergency, making telehealth a valuable option for your patients and your office.
Older Adults and Families — Nevada Interprofessional Healthy Aging Network
Best practices for treating older Americans through telehealth
It’s important that older patients don’t get left behind as the prominence of telehealth grows. Here are a few tips for making sure they get the attention and care they need through telehealth.
- Be understanding that your patients might not be digitally literate or have a basic understanding of how video calls work.
- Be flexible and 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 to cut down on the amount of times you need to see your patient in person. These devices could measure blood pressure, breathing and cardiac activity.