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January 29, 2019

Will Telehealth Benefit Older Adults?

“Telehealth is the use of digital information and communication technologies, such as computers and mobile devices, to access health care services remotely and manage your health care. These may be technologies you use from home or that your doctor uses to improve or support health care services.” (Mayo Clinic)

For some older adults, traveling to the doctor’s office can be challenging, perhaps because of health problems or transportation difficulties. In previous generations, of course, their doctors might make house calls, but that doesn’t happen much any more—or does it?

Thanks to telehealth technologies, you may be able to receive certain medical services without ever leaving home—which means that increasing numbers of people who want to age at home may be able to do exactly that.

These services are also referred to as telemedicine or digital health services. According to Health.USNews.com, technology can be used in multiple ways, including (but not limited to):

  • Remote appointments using internet technology, including video chat capabilities
  • Smartphone apps (proceed with caution with any apps not specifically recommended to you by your doctor)
  • Mobile phones used to upload information for a nurse to review: food logs, blood sugar levels, medications and dosages, and so forth
  • Biofeedback sensors that can track your heartbeat, breathing rates, brain waves, skin temperature, muscle tension and more
  • Online patient portals where you can receive test results, request refills on your prescriptions, communicate with your doctor and more
  • Email or text reminders of upcoming health appointments, tests and so forth
  • Video-based health resources, including information on your specific health conditions

There are also technologies that can monitor your speech for slurring (which could indicate a stroke or other issues), as well as those that note if you aren’t moving with your normal regularity, are spending lots more time in the bathroom and much more. This information can allow your medical team to suspect problems before they erupt into emergencies.

AARP.org shares more benefits for older adults who use telehealth services:

  • Reduced costs of travel
  • Reduced unmet health care needs
  • Improved satisfaction with health care
  • Reduced hospitalizations
  • Lower out of pocket costs
  • Ongoing support for older adults and their families
  • Increased opportunities for health-related education
  • Reduced stress for caregivers

The US News article notes telehealth technologies may play a key role in addressing today’s worker shortages in the healthcare industry, becoming “part of the solution for an aging population that needs more care than the current system is expected to be able to handle.”

Senior care can more easily be provided to people who live in more isolated communities. These technologies also allow medical teams to more easily coordinate care and communication and provide support to patients for their self-management of health conditions and much more.

Experts in the articles we’ve referenced note that in-person visits should continue to be part of your medical care and express concern that this approach makes fragmented health care more likely, which could lead to “gaps in care, overuse of medical care, inappropriate use of medications, or unnecessary or overlapping care.” Insurance reimbursement varies by state and insurance plan, and many people who would benefit most from these telehealth services may be limited in their abilities to use them because of internet availability issues or associated costs.

Used strategically, though, telehealth technologies can clearly supplement senior care and, as mentioned earlier, help them age at home with support close at hand.

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