With Improved Standards, Telehealth Could Significantly Enhance Senior Care
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, it became clear that telehealth provided a wide range of benefits for both patients and providers. These benefits included improved access to care and better outcomes while providing more options.
Researchers at West Health, a group of nonprofit and nonpartisan organizations that centers its efforts around improving healthcare for senior citizens, collaborated with researchers from the University of North Carolina and the University of Pittsburgh to provide commentary on a study showing that people 65 and older want to continue using telehealth but have experienced technical challenges and other hurdles to access.
“The COVID-19 pandemic brought to light the immense value of telemedicine to remotely connect patients and doctors for a wide range of healthcare needs,” says Liane Wardlow, PhD, senior director of Clinical Research and Telehealth at West Health, in a press release. “But when treating older patients, we see that telemedicine falls short in many important ways. The problem is that remote healthcare delivery simply wasn’t designed with the needs of older people in mind.”
The study emphasized the benefits telehealth provided for those over 65. Researchers surveyed 208 older individuals. The survey’s goals centered around understanding patient experience using audio and video telehealth for primary care.
The main survey finding was that telehealth was largely appreciated among all respondents regardless of age. The survey also showed that despite the overall preference for in-person care, many would like telehealth to remain an option.
In the editorial, the researchers argue that a framework is necessary for providers to address barriers to telehealth use among seniors. The framework includes guidelines to ensure telehealth is person-centered, remains equitable and accessible, and is effectively integrated and coordinated with care plans.
Some guidelines include widening access to relevant advance care planning documents, incorporating patient experience and satisfaction surveys, and forwarding a record of the telehealth encounter to the patient’s primary care provider.
Researchers also noted that providers receiving further training on how to treat older populations virtually is necessary.
“Without these guardrails, telehealth may further segment care, thereby increasing the chances of low-value care while further exacerbating health inequities,” the authors wrote in the editorial. “With these guardrails in place, however, telehealth has the potential to realize its promise of improving access to high-value, equitable, safe, timely and convenient care to older adults.”
Over the past few years, there has been growing interest in the relationship between older populations and telehealth.
At a virtual session during telehealth awareness week in September, a panel of senior care and technology experts discussed how technology can assist aging seniors. After discussing why seniors would like to have virtual care options, experts noted how health IT technology can support aging in place, specifically through the screen, telephone, and remote patient monitoring.
Further, a federal report from February found that video-based telehealth use was less common among non-White and older Americans. The report noted that the finding suggested the importance of ensuring equitable access to telehealth, as many patients do not have specific technological resources or the knowledge of how to use them.