The Advantages Of Telehealth Visits For Older Adults

Amanda Lambert

You may have become familiar with telehealth visits, also known as telemedicine, having heard more about this type of patient care during the pandemic. 

Many older adults were unable or unwilling to drive to outpatient care providers due to the risk of Coronavirus infection. Despite a recent increase in in-person doctor’s office visits, many patients continue to choose to receive most of their healthcare services remotely if possible.

We will cover the advantages and benefits of telehealth and the challenges in accessing this beneficial remote care.

What is Telehealth?

Telehealth is a healthcare visit that is conducted remotely via a tablet, smartphone, or computer in the comfort of your home. 

Home may be your loved one’s residence, an assisted living facility, or any other senior living community.

Geriatric doctors use telehealth visits most frequently, but other primary care physicians also offer virtual visits. The platform used for these visits is HIPAA-compliant, so you don’t need to worry about the privacy of your older loved one’s healthcare information.

What Happens During a Telehealth Visit?

You may understandably question how much medical care a physician can realistically provide during a telehealth visit versus an in-person visit. As healthcare providers have become more engaged with telehealth technology, the patient experience has become more robust and comprehensive. 

For the best virtual care experience, having family or a caregiver participate in the visit can be helpful.

Your loved one may forget vital information and need assistance from someone who knows them well and can report accurate healthcare information during the visit.

Evaluations conducted via telehealth include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Blood Pressure Checks
    Physicians often require a running tally of blood pressure checks; you or your loved one can report these during the visit and the physician can start or adjust blood pressure medication. High blood pressure can lead to heart attack, stroke, or kidney problems.

  • Mental Health Assessment
    Depression and anxiety screening questions are relatively easy to administer during a telehealth visit. After administering the mental health assessment and speaking to the patient, the physician can make a referral to counseling or suggest medication to help alleviate symptoms.

  • A Review of Health Conditions
    A healthcare provider can review chronic conditions that require monitoring, such as hydration, diabetes checks, urinary tract infections, oxygen levels, fall risk, arthritis, and post-surgery recovery.

  • Assess Daily Function
    Part of a geriatric assessment is a review of daily functional activities such as bathing, dressing, mobility, cooking, and the ability to manage household duties. All of these are just as quickly assessed via telehealth as they are in person. Possibly more so due to the patient’s comfort level being at home.

  • Mental Status Exam
    Simple memory tests are often given during a telehealth appointment. Memory tests are considered screening tools that may indicate the need for additional testing depending on the score.

  • Referral to Other Healthcare Clinicians
    Your physician can refer you to other specialties if required, and those providers may also offer telehealth appointments.

  • Review of Patient Monitoring Systems
    Remote monitoring is becoming more popular with aging adults and their doctors. Some systems are simple to use, and others are more complex. Conditions such as sleep apnea, asthma, heart conditions, weight loss or gain, and COPD are just a few health-related problems a healthcare provider can monitor remotely.

7 Advantages of Telehealth Visits For Older Adults

There are numerous advantages of telehealth visits, but they aren’t for everyone. Some people with cognitive impairment will need hands-on in-person instruction on how to use and access video conferencing.

However, in general, telehealth benefits outweigh the challenges. Let's take a look at the seven advantages of telehealth visits for seniors.

1. Cost-Effective

If your loved one relies on you for doctor’s visits or has a professional caregiver for that purpose, it can be time-intensive and costly to transport someone to healthcare appointments. And Medicare pays for telehealth visits.

The use of telehealth allows you to be involved but more efficiently. If your loved one can access the platform independently, you can join from your office or home.

2. Eliminates Travel

Getting an older adult in the car and to an appointment can be challenging and time-consuming. Not to mention your loved one may refuse to go.

A telehealth visit allows older adults to remain in the comfort of their homes to interact with their physicians. Travel can also be a safety concern for older adults with mobility issues. 

3. Reduces Emergency Room Visits

It is not unusual for a patient to be confused about what warrants an urgent care or emergency room visit. A quick telehealth appointment with your physician can sort out the problem and possibly avoid an unnecessary emergency room visit.

4. Decreases Hospital Readmissions

We have all had the experience of panic at the re-emergence of symptoms or problems related to a surgery or illness. 

To avoid your loved one being readmitted to the hospital, speaking remotely with your loved one’s healthcare team can help. They can then inform you whether to manage your loved one’s symptoms at home or to go to the hospital.

5. Beneficial When Living In A Rural Area

Many older adults reside in rural areas without easy access to outpatient health clinics. Remote telehealth is ideal for these situations because it allows for managing healthcare without traveling a long distance for care.

6. Efficient for Long-Distance Caregivers

If you are a long-distance caregiver, it can be a challenge to manage the care of a loved one. Telehealth visits allow you to participate, plan for the visit in advance, and make necessary care adjustments based on the visit results

7. Counseling Is Made Easier

Most insurance covers counseling via telehealth video conferencing, including Medicare and Medicaid. 

For older adults, accessing counseling services in their homes has significant advantages. Your loved one won’t need to travel to an appointment, and the convenience can make the difference between agreeing to mental health treatment or refusing it. 

Does Health Insurance Pay for Telehealth?

More and more insurance companies authorize their patients to use telehealth video visits and will pay for it just as they would an outpatient appointment. 

Medicare and Medicaid both pay for telehealth visits. Remember that in many cases, insurance requires face-to-face interaction with a patient via video rather than a phone call.

How To Use Telehealth Wisely

Telehealth, despite all of its advantages, can’t cover everything. 

Preventative care visits such as mammograms, dermatology, cancer screenings, heart and kidney function tests, etc. will require in-person visits along with any surgeries. 

Avoiding vital preventative screening is counterproductive and can be harmful. However, for routine healthcare visits, telehealth can be an appropriate healthcare choice.