Telehealth has been an advancing technology in the field of healthcare, and gained in popularity when the Covid-19 pandemic hit. This crisis has triggered a surge of interest in remote medicine. In fact, the CDC noted that telehealth visits increased by 50% in the first quarter of 2020.
Telemedicine was already a promising solution to patients facing complex obstacles to medical services, particularly in under-served rural areas. This has been an aspect of the continuing trend for healthcare to move away from the centralized hospital model and to be distributed across different specialized offices and services, and smaller units of care such as local urgent care facilities.
Distance-learning programs of many schools in rural areas during the pandemic led to Internet service providers lowering their prices and offering faster internet speeds. And people everywhere who were uncomfortable entering a hospital could still receive many kinds of healthcare through videoconferencing software.
Seniors May Struggle With Telemedicine
Telehealth has been embraced by younger generations, but older adults face barriers to using this technology. In fact, a 2020 study suggests that a third of people aged 65 and older will struggle with getting remote healthcare to work for them. There are many reasons for this.
Seniors tend to have complex medical histories, and are more likely to be living with multiple health conditions. They may not have fast and reliable internet due to limited income, and may struggle to navigate the hardware and software required by telemedicine.
Further, seniors (and any patient) may have sensory or memory issues that interfere with telehealth meeting, or may have difficulty speaking loudly and clearly enough to be understood. All of this can make it difficult for medical staff to remotely examine these patients and give accurate and timely advice.
Setting Up For Success
A successful telemedicine check-in, whether it’s by phone or video, starts with preparing a space in the home. This can form part of the general makeover usually beneficial for seniors aging in place. The space should be relatively quiet and distraction-free, with good lighting so the older adult can be clearly seen.
Once you’ve checked the home’s internet connection and installed the medical facility’s telehealth software, look over the set-up. Where can you troubleshoot issues that the senior is having? For instance, if they have poor vision, you may be able to connect the computer to a large-screen TV so they can see a bigger image of their doctor. Audio, meanwhile, could be sent into a Bluetooth-capable hearing aid.
Empowering Seniors During and After the Call
Telemedicine calls can be hurried and stressful for a senior. If things go poorly, they may give up on remote medicine and never try again. You’ll want to help them stay on-track, get their concerns addressed, and have a smooth telehealth experience.
Start by offering support before the call itself. For instance, you can do a trial run of the video software and arrange a call with a relative or friend. Some medical offices can also have someone from the healthcare team call a day before the meeting to check that your software is set up properly.
Next, sit down with the senior and discuss what they want from the coming telehealth consultation. What health concerns do they have? How is the new medication working out? Any strange or worrying symptoms? Write their concerns down and circle the most urgent ones. You or the senior can refer to this list during the video call and make sure everything gets addressed.
This is also a good time to ask if they have any broader concerns about the telemedicine process. Are they worried about their data privacy? Maybe you can discuss how their private information is being protected. Are they concerned that they won’t get the same quality of healthcare that they’d find during an in-person visit? Talk about this with the senior. If you don’t have all the answers, reach out to their healthcare team and bring those answers back to your loved one. This takes pressure off of the senior to navigate a web of emails, messaging software, or call waiting systems.
Caregivers who stay in the room during the call can also offer a lot of support. First of all, being on hand lets you manage any last-minute tech failures. It may be useful to repeat what the doctor just said to a hard of hearing or forgetful senior. You can also repeat what the senior said to their doctor if this person has a weak voice or confuses their words.
People of all ages have a strong tendency to remember the first and last things their doctor tells them, while everything in the middle gets muddled. It’s helpful to take notes or record the teleconference session, if that’s an option. Afterwards, you and your senior can review any details that you might have missed.
However, remember to ask both the senior and their doctor before recording anything. This is a sticky point for patient privacy laws. Each healthcare provider has its own policies regarding telehealth recordings.
Seniors May Need Support to Adopt Telehealth
At its best, telehealth offers seniors a versatile alternative to in-person medical visits. They can check in with their doctor, discuss medication changes or re-fills, get physical therapy, learn how to use in-home medical equipment from nurses, and more. However, transitioning to remote healthcare has some distinct challenges.
Ultimately, all kinds of healthcare are a conversation between a patient and their medical team. Two-way communication is vital here, as a patient needs to feel that their concerns have been heard. They also need to clearly understand the medical advice being given. Caregivers play a vital role in this conversation. They can facilitate remote communication, supporting a patient on their healthcare journey.