The Benefits of Telehealth for Seniors

Senior Care

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, many doctors’ offices began offering telehealth services. In the US, Medicare expanded its coverage for telehealth services , so that senior patients can take advantage of ‘virtual’ visits with their doctors. As we continue to practice physical distancing and keep our socialization limited to our ‘bubbles,’ telehealth will remain one of the common ways many of us access healthcare services.

Telemedicine is particularly useful for seniors, who are at risk for more severe coronavirus symptoms and are therefore being especially cautious. Using telehealth services may be quite a new experience for seniors, so in this post, you’ll find an overview of exactly what telehealth is, how and why it’s valuable for senior patients, and what its limits are when it comes to delivery of care. 

What is telehealth?

Essentially, telehealth is healthcare delivered via technology - usually over the telephone or by video chat using software like Skype or Zoom. Telehealth allows patients to access healthcare from their own homes. 

While not all of us might have utilized telehealth services previously, telemedicine has actually been steadily expanding alongside technological advancements. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) mentions that “many professional medical societies endorse telehealth services.” Not every health concern or condition can be addressed through a virtual doctor’s visit, but these endorsements mean that we can rest assured that telemedicine is an entirely adequate way to receive healthcare, including diagnoses for medical concerns that can be understood through the description of symptoms and/or photos and video, or for the simpler reasons you might visit a physician, like having a long-term prescription refilled. 

Alongside medical practices, home care companies like Mavencare are also using telehealth options to communicate with and assess clients. We are offering virtual nursing assessments and consultations to both new and existing clients, making it possible for our nurses and coordinators to discuss care options and design care plans while maintaining physical distance. 

What are the benefits of telehealth?

Telehealth allows patients to ‘visit’ their doctors without leaving their homes. This means that it is convenient and easily accessible for people who live far away from medical facilities and patients with limited mobility . Seniors who must commute a fair distance to their doctor’s office benefit from making an appointment that can happen in the coming days, rather than having to wait to schedule an appointment on a day that a family member, friend, or caregiver can drive and/or accompany them to the appointment. The same is true for seniors with limited mobility, who are able to make telehealth appointments without worrying about the logistics of getting to their doctor’s office and home again. 

At all times, but especially now, as the COVID-19 virus remains a serious concern, telehealth appointments are also a way for at-risk patients to avoid sitting in waiting rooms with other patients who might have communicable diseases. Even for patients who are not in high-risk groups, telehealth has the benefit of allowing them to practice physical distancing by not sharing space with others in a waiting room. Additionally, telehealth can help keep doctors healthy, as it reduces the number of face-to-face appointments they have with their patients. 

Telehealth also saves time. The AARP spoke with a patient who described his telehealth experience as “friendlier” and “not as stressful” when compared to a traditional in-person appointment, also noting that the process of getting to the doctor’s practice, waiting, and having his visit with the doctor was often quite long, but with telehealth, his appointment “was done in 20 minutes.” This is a benefit we can all enjoy, including seniors and family members who take care of their senior loved ones: instead of finding a different care arrangement, family caregivers can have their doctor’s appointments right at home, which simplifies their lives and can expedite their care as well. 

According to the Canadian Nurses Association , telehealth practices can reduce the number of unneeded visits to the emergency room (especially in regions where 24/7 access to a hotline staffed by nurses is available), and help patients manage chronic illnesses with fewer appointments in medical facilities and a greater “sense of empowerment and independence.” 

As a bonus, using telehealth services is also good for the environment , particularly when used by those who live in rural communities and typically have to drive to see their doctors.  

What are the limits of telehealth?

Of course, there are some ailments and illnesses that cannot be treated virtually. While doctors may be able to diagnose some things, such as skin conditions, through a clear photograph, there are plenty of illnesses that require a physical exam before a doctor can prescribe a treatment, and many diagnostic tests must be done in person as well. Seniors who need to visit a medical facility should ask for guidance regarding how best to visit safely, ex. wearing a mask, arriving at the exact time of their appointment, and keeping distant from others when possible.

Another limitation of telehealth is that not all patients have the technology necessary to access the benefits of telemedicine. Patients who need to show their doctor a part of their bodies may not have a smartphone, tablet, or computer that enables them to do so virtually. Additionally, while it may be possible for many seniors to speak with their doctor over the phone, some may have difficulty hearing or communicating verbally.

If you have a senior loved one, you may be able to help them overcome technological limitations by sitting in on their doctor’s appointments with them (so long as they are comfortable with you doing so), or, if it’s financially feasible for them to purchase a smartphone or tablet, helping them learn how to navigate the apps or software they’ll need to use to speak with their physician. 

For some, this newer form of healthcare might initially seem uncomfortable or insufficient. This might be a significant source of hesitation for seniors, who are likely accustomed to speaking to their doctors face-to-face. Since using telehealth is one of the key ways seniors can keep themselves away from shared, enclosed spaces throughout the coronavirus pandemic, this is another limitation that you can assist your senior loved ones in tackling. Doing a trial video chat, helping them take photos of relevant physical symptoms, or assisting them in tracking things like blood pressure at home are all ways you can help your senior loved one prepare to have a successful telehealth appointment. 

For the foreseeable future, lots of activities that we’ve typically done on-location or in-person will be taking place using technologies that make them possible to do at a distance instead, including medical appointments. If we all start reaping the benefits of telehealth during this pandemic, chances are it’s a form of healthcare that will only grow in popularity, and be here to stay - so it’s something we should all try and familiarize ourselves with. Remember that telehealth isn’t just for older adults: it’s a useful way for us all to keep up with appointments, connect with our doctors easily and promptly, and stay out of waiting rooms, all of which are great ways to preserve and support our own health, the health of our high-risk family members and friends, and our communities at large.