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Telemedicine for Older Patients: The Benefits and Obstacles

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Telemedicine has become popular after the COVID-19 pandemic, especially for older patients who cannot travel. Continue reading to learn how beneficial it is.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Rajesh Gulati

Published At June 16, 2023
Reviewed AtJune 23, 2023

Introduction

During the COVID-19 pandemic, telemedicine has become a popular option for providing medical care, especially for the elderly, who may face challenges accessing in-person healthcare. This article discusses the benefits of telemedicine for older adults, the barriers they encounter in utilizing telemedicine, and strategies to improve access and adoption among them.

What Are the Benefits of Telehealth for Older Adults?

There are several benefits to telehealth for older individuals. All these benefits are discussed below.

  • Less Travel Outside the Home: Telehealth reduces the need for elderly patients to physically visit doctors' offices, addressing mobility and transportation issues while minimizing exposure to diseases.

  • Prompt Medical Attention: Telemedicine enables faster access to medical care, which is particularly beneficial for older adults who may require frequent or urgent healthcare.

  • Cost-Effectiveness: Telehealth reduces direct and indirect healthcare costs for seniors by eliminating travel expenses and providing affordable services, increasing accessibility for those with limited budgets.

  • Increased Care and Support: Remote monitoring devices allow healthcare providers to monitor better and assist older patients with chronic health conditions, improving care decisions and reducing the need for frequent in-person visits. As in the telemedicine platforms, the patient's records are stored safely; the healthcare professional can easily monitor the improvement in the health condition and further treatment plan.

What Are the Challenges in Providing Telehealth to Older Adults?

Although telehealth is a great platform for getting medical help for elderly patients, there are some challenges that come up while implementing telehealth. These are discussed below.

  • Restriction of Technology: Older adults may face challenges in using telehealth due to limited familiarity with technology and physical or cognitive limitations, necessitating user-friendly telemedicine systems.

  • Cultural and Linguistic Disadvantages: Language and cultural barriers can hinder effective communication and understanding, highlighting the need for linguistically and culturally suitable telehealth services.

  • Limited Device and Internet Access: Seniors may lack access to necessary devices or stable internet connections, emphasizing the importance of addressing these challenges and improving access to telehealth services.

  • Fixing the Digital Divide: Healthcare providers can bridge the digital divide by offering audio-only or phone-based visits and providing resources, training, and user-friendly platforms to support older adults.

What Are the Perceptions and Uses of Telehealth in the Care of Older Adults?

Not every individual is the same in their perception of a new trend. The same thing happens with telemedicine, different people have different perceptions, and all of these are discussed below.

  • The Contentment of Patients: Despite slow adoption, many older adults are satisfied with the accessibility, efficacy, and confidentiality of telehealth services, favoring its continuation as an option for future medical care.

  • Favoring Person-to-Person Treatment: While some seniors are content with telehealth, others prefer face-to-face interactions, particularly for complex or initial consultations, emphasizing the need for a hybrid approach combining in-person and telehealth visits.

  • A Hybrid Method for Healthcare: Many seniors desire a blend of traditional medicine and telemedicine, providing choice and flexibility in their care while accommodating their diverse needs.

What Are the Methods of Assisting the Elderly in Embracing Telehealth?

As there are a few hurdles to implementing telemedicine for older patients, there are also a few solutions to overcome them. These are discussed below.

  • Support and Training: Offering training and support in using telemedicine platforms can increase adoption among older adults and mitigate technological hurdles. Providing information in multiple languages and involving caregivers can enhance accessibility and usability.

  • Family and Friends as Caretakers: Involving caregivers and family members can assist older adults in understanding and using telemedicine services, resolving technical difficulties, and facilitating communication with healthcare providers.

  • Care Planning for Remote Patients: Tailoring telehealth programs to meet the specific needs of older adults, including user-friendly platforms and specialized support services, can improve their success and satisfaction with telehealth.

  • Overcoming Communication Barriers: Providing telemedicine services in patient's native languages and addressing cultural differences can enhance communication effectiveness and patient engagement.

How Has the Adoption of Telemedicine Among Older Adults Evolved Over Time?

Telemedicine adoption among older adults during the COVID-19 pandemic has shown promising results. Despite a decrease in familiarity with technology as age increases, several older adults have expressed interest in using telemedicine for video visits with their care providers. However, there are obstacles to overcome. Some elderly individuals reported difficulties connecting to the platform, trouble hearing, a lack of interest in remote care, and language barriers.

Despite being more familiar with telephone communication, older adults are open to learning about and using online video platforms as well. Challenges in adopting telemedicine for older adults arise from a lack of familiarity with video and internet technology, as well as increasing functional deficits in hearing, vision, memory, and cognition. To address these challenges, streamlining telemedicine platforms and providing support for troubleshooting and caregiver training can be helpful.

Additionally, language barriers and socioeconomic disparities in digital access need to be considered, along with recommendations for providing simple instructions in multiple languages and culturally concordant training. While some individuals may initially hesitate to adopt video visits due to concerns about the lack of physical touch and limitations in conducting a physical examination, positive experiences with telemedicine can increase their willingness to use it. It is important to have clear messaging about telemedicine's role, emphasizing that it augments rather than replaces in-person care. Lastly, eliciting patient perspectives, particularly from older adults, is crucial in designing telemedicine platforms to ensure equitable access to care, taking into account their unique needs and preferences.

How Did the Adoption of Telehealth Among Older Adults Change During the COVID-19 Pandemic?

As COVID-19 spread across the U.S. in 2020, healthcare systems rapidly embraced telehealth to limit in-person contact. The experiences of older adults with telehealth visits during this time revealed significant changes.

  • Telehealth Adoption: A substantial increase was observed in the proportion of older adults who had access to telehealth visits.

  • Types of Visits: Telehealth visits were primarily conducted with primary care providers, specialty care providers, and mental health providers.

  • Transition from In-Person: Many older adults had their in-person visits shifted to telehealth, with some experiencing telehealth as the only available option.

  • Comparison to In-Person Visits: Telehealth visits were considered convenient, although in-person visits were perceived to provide higher quality care and better communication.

  • Concerns: Common concerns included the inability to conduct physical exams and perceived lower quality of care.

  • Comfort with Video Technology: Older adult's comfort with video conferencing technologies increased during this period.

  • Interest in Future Telehealth: Interest in telehealth visits for various types of appointments showed an upward trend.

Telehealth has become a crucial tool in healthcare delivery for older adults during the COVID-19 pandemic. Ongoing monitoring and addressing of concerns are important to ensure successful integration into the healthcare system.

Conclusion

Telehealth offers numerous benefits for older adults, including increased access to care, cost-effectiveness, and improved monitoring. Overcoming obstacles such as restricted access to technology and language barriers is essential for the widespread adoption of telemedicine among the elderly. By providing training and support, involving caregivers, and tailoring telehealth services to meet their needs, healthcare professionals can enhance access and ensure older adults receive effective and comfortable care through telemedicine.

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Dr. Rajesh Gulati
Dr. Rajesh Gulati

Family Physician

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telemedicine
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