What Does Telehealth Mean and How Can Seniors Benefit?

Experts say telehealth is the future of healthcare but what actually is it? Find out what these virtual visits are and the benefits of telehealth for seniors.

What is telehealth? Experts say telehealth is the future of healthcare. For senior populations, telehealth can expand coverage, improve care, and clarify communication. 

Read on to find out why virtual visits are replacing in-person appointments and the benefits of telehealth for seniors.

What Is Telehealth?

Named one of the top four health trends for adults 65+, telehealth is the practice of healthcare via phone or video communication. Simply an alternate form of delivering health care services, telehealth can facilitate the following: 

  • Diagnosis
  • Consultation
  • Treatment
  • Education
  • Care management
  • Self-management

Telehealth programs are sophisticated yet simple for users to set up. For example, there are virtual chronic disease management programs that use monitoring systems to collect patients’ vital signs. This results in a level of care that is more continuous than other options. 

Different Types of Telephone Care Providers

In recent years, many providers have included telemedicine in their care plans. Telehealth visit options, such as telephone or virtual video conferencing/appointments, remove barriers for both patients and providers. 

Healthcare experts say that telehealth is the future of medicine since it aims to improve prevention as well as health outcomes.

List of Telehealth Providers

Many needed services provided telehealth options, including:

  • Physicians and surgeons
  • Nurse practitioners and physician assistants
  • Nurse midwives, specialists, or anesthetists 
  • Psychologists, counselors, and clinical social workers
  • Dentists
  • Registered dietitians or nutrition professionals
  • Substance use disorder services
  • Community Clinic services
  • Rehabilitation services

The AARP Telehealth Center can help seniors and caregivers navigate their options. This online center provides valuable articles and information on the latest advances available and tips for connecting to clinicians. Virtual options are expanding, and will likely be considered standard of care in the coming years. 

Healthcare Settings that Utilize Telemedicine

There are a variety of settings that use telehealth, too. These include: 

  • Provider doctor’s offices
  • Hospitals, including critical access, renal dialysis, and rural emergency settings
  • Rural health clinics and hospitals
  • Government qualified health centers
  • Skilled nursing facilities
  • Community mental health centers

Ask for telehealth options at the time of care. This can be an important step in advocating for older adults and caregivers. Be sure to ask about resources and coverage so that seniors have the best quality of care available. 

Benefits of Telehealth

The primary benefit of telehealth is that a patient can manage health care at their preferred location. The provider remains at a distant site and can help the caregiver and patient interact or proceed with treatment without certain obstacles interfering. Especially for older adults with challenging obstacles or limited options, telemedicine can be a life-saver.

Usability and Accessibility

Telehealth is an excellent option for those with disabilities, or other challenges, that limit activity. It allows specialists that are far away to deliver healthcare services through technology. 

While only 11 percent of older adults feel comfortable using healthcare according to the American Psychological Association, 7 out of 10 have access to and use technology regularly. 

Telehealth is often a more convenient option, and patients and providers alike are encouraged to include telehealth in their wellness plans. Providers especially are encouraged to remove barriers to using the platforms, properly educate patients, and allow for easy access to health information and resources. 

Another benefit of telehealth is that the provider can see how the patient lives. Sometimes, seniors can speak confidently but their homes may reflect a more accurate state of disability. This can help the physician or other healthcare provider identify key risks and challenges with daily living skills (DLS). 

Streamlines the Process

Telehealth allows providers to collaborate quickly with other experts. It also facilitates an easier referral process. It allows for verbal consent to be made in place of written consent, which helps to remove obstacles for older adults who find writing or movement difficult. 

More Bang for Your Buck

Telehealth is covered under most healthcare plans. The use of technology in health care allows for costs to be minimized. This saves the patient and provider unnecessary expenses. Many telehealth companies are finding ways to utilize software, websites, and technology that patients and providers already have access to in their daily lives. 

Instead of driving a large distance for a 15-minute “check-in”, telehealth allows for brief communication using technology for a “virtual visit”. This is a more manageable option for many seniors and allows for an expansion of care options. Even if the initial patient information must be recorded in person, follow-up appointments can typically be made via telehealth. 

Patient Portals

Another perk of telehealth is the advent of patient portal systems. These interfaces allow for patient and provider teams to communicate electronically. Some systems even have cell phone applications, prescription refill submission forms, and a way to schedule appointments or pay outstanding balances online. 

Remote Monitoring of Chronic Care Management

According to the National Institute on Aging, 85 percent of older adults have at least one chronic health condition. Sixty percent have at least two. 

Chronic conditions introduce challenges such as: 

  • Managing a variety of treatments
  • Maintaining quality of life
  • Paying for care
  • Navigating complex healthcare systems
  • Finding clinicians to educate patients, family members, and caregivers
  • Connecting to appropriate community resources and services
  • The loss of physical function, independence, or general well-being
  • Finding disease management programs or community case managers

Telehealth helps to ease the challenges of chronic disease. It allows for the patient and caregivers to ask questions and get answers quickly. 

Especially for those with multiple conditions, telehealth can be a helpful method of keeping records and labs organized in a central location.  Many patient portals allow for a digital record of patient notes to be kept. This is popular among seniors and caregivers managing multiple conditions because it can be challenging to keep up with the wealth of information on how to stay well. 

Expanded Resources

Telehealth allows for electronic resources to become more available. Organizations such as Telehealth Access for Seniors provide helpful resources and guides so that older adults can learn how to set up equipment and stay connected to physicians. This allows for more continuous care and a more personalized approach to wellness for older patients. 

The Bottom Line 

Telehealth is an affordable, convenient, and accessible option for many older adults. Technological advances and electronic methods connect providers to patients for a more continuous level of care. 

Consider sensory, motor, and cognitive challenges when implementing these systems, and encourage technology support when utilizing telehealth options. 

References:

APA Committee on Aging. How to provide telehealth to older adults. American Psychology Association. Published August 13, 2020. https://www.apaservices.org/practice/clinic/telehealth-older-adults.

Center for Connected Health Policy. Telehealth Advancement Act. https://www.cchpca.org/.

Supporting Older Patients with Chronic Conditions. Published May 17, 2017. National Institute on Aging (NIA). Published May 17, 2017. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/supporting-older-patients-chronic-conditions#:~:text=Approximately%2085%20percent%20of%20older,conditions%20is%20a%20real%20challenge

Maheu. How to Use Telehealth for Seniors. Telebehavioral Health Institute. Published August 29, 2020. https://telehealth.org/telehealth-for-seniors/.