In a time filled with soul-crushing news, there is a silver lining: seniors and healthcare providers are adopting technology in new ways to ensure that our most vulnerable population continues to receive the care that it so desperately needs.
It would not be a big surprise to say that before the coronavirus pandemic, telemedicine was not widely adopted by seniors; in fact, only 1 in 10 seniors used telemedicine before the pandemic. Seniors were accustomed to in-office visits, valuing the opportunity to speak directly with the physician; and, to those of us who listened, bemoaning the small amount of time they actually got with the doctor. Yet, these in-office visits were highly valued among seniors for their regular check-ups, to help them monitor on-going conditions, discuss prescriptions and any other new condition that may arise.
And then the pandemic came. Suddenly, seniors didn’t want to go anywhere in public, let alone sit for an hour in an office waiting room, surrounded by other people who were potentially sick. It was at this time that telemedicine’s Medicare expansion was announced. While we all thought it was a great idea, everyone wondered whether seniors and healthcare providers would embrace telemedicine or whether they would simply wait out the pandemic to resume their normal office visits.
Since the healthcare industry is notoriously slow to adopt technology, the federal government understood that healthcare practitioners would need to get on board for telemedicine to be successful. To help the healthcare industry embrace telemedicine, the CDC is actively promoting telemedicine by giving providers information on technology tools that will allow them to efficiently use telemedicine with their patients. No doubt, the CDC’s encouragement helped many practitioners get more comfortable with the idea of serving their patients through video and telephonic interactions.
The second question was whether seniors would be willing to try talking to the doctor on the phone. However, since necessity is the mother of all invention, seniors have been making the call. My colleague’s 74-year-old father is a triathlete who just got his first smartphone this year. Recently, he needed to see the doctor so he made a telemedicine appointment with the Veterans Affairs telehealth service and was very happy with the service and results.
Months later, we can declare that technology won. Healthcare providers have decided that many routine matters for seniors can and should be handled by telemedicine. During the pandemic, one survey shows an incredible 340% increase in telemedicine use by seniors; 44% of seniors have used telemedicine and 43% say they intend on using it after the pandemic is over. And of those who used telemedicine, 58% say they have used it once while 30% report using it once a month. In an interesting note, two-thirds of those who haven’t tried telemedicine said the reason is simply because they haven’t needed the service.
While our seniors are quickly adopting telemedicine for routine medical matters, the next front to tackle is telehealth services for senior mental health. The pandemic has been particularly difficult for our seniors who are isolating themselves to avoid COVID-19’s higher mortality rate associated with seniors. Although this measure is important to maintain their physical health, the isolation is very difficult, and many seniors could benefit by receiving mental health services. Let’s continue to encourage the seniors in our lives to reach out for any medical service they may need, whether it be physical or mental health.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic has been a very difficult time for us all, there is a silver lining: seniors are embracing technology and adopting telemedicine to help with their routine medical needs.
Jan Dubauskas is a healthcare expert, enthusiastic insurance pro, attorney and mom serving as vice president of healthinsurance.com.
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