Telemedicine is becoming an increasingly important part of healthcare as the nation continues to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic. Modern technology allows doctors to better protect patients and staff by making the switch to virtual appointments.
Both Medicaid and Medicare have boosted the use of telemedicine by expanding coverage to include the practice. Telemedicine is especially significant for older patients most at-risk of suffering the worst consequences of the virus. Telemedicine also is valuable for those with limited mobility, few transportation options and rural residents who may live far from the nearest medical specialist.
Statistics verify the growing use of telemedicine in the United States. Only 4% of older patients report previously using telemedicine for a doctor’s visit, according to the 2019 University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging. That same survey in 2020 found 26% had a telemedicine visit between March and June.
The poll, which surveyed patients between the ages of 50 and 80, revealed that older adults have expanded their use of telemedicine to a variety of medical services. Among those who had a telemedicine visit, 76% met with a primary care provider, 32% with a specialty care provider and 18% with a mental health provider for an online therapy session.
Asked about their most recent telehealth visit, 33% of patients reported they conducted it via video, 31% said they used video on a tablet or computer and 36% said they used audio only.
The Benefits of Telemedicine For Older Patients
The coronavirus has offered older patients something of a crash course in telemedicine. While some medical procedures must be done in person, such as a blood draw or physical examination, patients report a number of benefits in using telemedicine for other services, according to the AARP.
One of the biggest benefits is saving time. Rather than getting into their car and driving to the doctor’s office, patients can simply get on the phone or do a video call with the physician. That cuts the time spent on the appointment from an hour or more to a matter of minutes. For those in rural areas or who use public transportation, it could save them an entire day spent getting to and from a doctor’s office.
Telemedicine also makes it more convenient to meet briefly with a doctor and get answers to questions. Many patients, especially those who have just had surgery or a procedure done, simply want to consult with their doctor for test results or to discuss any issues they are having.
Is Technology a Barrier to Telemedicine For Older Patients?
In the past, people have voiced concerns that technology might provide a barrier for people wanting to use telemedicine. A 2018 study on patient satisfaction with a new telemedicine program disproved that assumption. Doctors from the Department of Emergency Medicine at New York Presbyterian-Weill Cornell Medical Center reported that older patients reported similar satisfaction and quality assessment scores for telemedicine as did young patients.
“We assumed that many older patients would be skeptical of the new technology and choose not to participate,” the researchers wrote. “Our assumption was incorrect.” They went on to write: “Many of the older patients we have cared for have demonstrated flexibility and interest in the novel use of technology. ‘It is always good to try something new’ is a quote we have heard over the video monitor from more than one patient in their 90s.”
With the pandemic causing both providers and patients to experience the stress of a public health crisis, many have already adapted to using technology to safely receive healthcare. With the benefits of telemedicine, many older adults may continue this trend long after the coronavirus is under control.