Telemedicine Is on the Rise for Older Adults

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As the coronavirus sweeps across the country, older adults are isolating at home and in care facilities for safety. Problem is, the vast majority of them need health care, either for chronic conditions or acute issues. With the health care system strained, the Trump administration recently cleared the way for a temporary increase in the use of telemedicine.

Telemedicine involves having provider visits via computer or phone, and monitoring patient health remotely with sensors. A steady stream of vital signs can be automatically recorded and shared while the patient stays comfortably at home.

“Having a feed of information that tracks vitals over time is much more comprehensive than the snapshot assessment that’s obtained during an in-office doctor’s visit,” says Majd Alwan, senior vice president of technology and executive director of the LeadingAge Center for Aging Services Technologies (CAST). “Doctors can prescribe appropriate treatments and interventions, as well as detect the early onset of disease, without patients even leaving their homes.” More than half of hospitals use telemedicine in some way to monitor patient health.

Coverage Increases

On March 17, the White House announced an expansion of benefits under Medicare during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Providers will be allowed to use everyday technologies to talk to telehealth patients, more telehealth services will be covered … and providers will be allowed to offer these telehealth benefits to Medicare beneficiaries at a lower cost than traditional services,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a prepared statement.

Telemedicine may be as simple as a call from an older adult to a health provider to report symptoms from a new medication and ask for guidance. But older adults who are not as able can benefit as well by having a caretaker give updates or detail an issue. And automatic monitors — such as fall alerts or heart monitors — can send critical information without the need for human intervention.

Many providers are hopeful that the new guidelines will endure beyond the pandemic. As lawmakers realize the cost savings and patients experience the convenience and accessibility of the technology, virtual care could become the new norm.

How Does It Work?

Telemedicine can’t mend a broken bone, but it’s amazing how many services can be delivered virtually. Doctors, Physician’s Assistants and other professionals can Skype or FaceTime clients and hear how they are doing with a new medication, if they may benefit from an antidepressant, ask about a rash that the patient can “show” them with a phone or computer camera, or recommend virtual mental health therapy. They can also go over prescribed exercises, ask how a patient is eating or get a report on vital signs.

What Is Covered?

Currently, Medicare will cover three types of virtual services:
• Check-ins. Medicare beneficiaries can message their care provider to cut down on trips to the office. This service may be included for chronically ill people who need to check in on a set basis.
• Telehealth visits. Patients can consult with a professional over the phone instead of in person. This works for mental health care as well.
• E-visits. Non-urgent communication is initiated by the patient via email, and follow-up is provided by the health care professional.

And it’s not just patients who benefit. Caregivers find that telemedicine can be a lifeline, reducing the need to take Mom to appointments. They are also able to stay involved in the care protocol for their loved one, since they can ask questions and make reports electronically.

The future for telemedicine looks promising as more and more innovations in monitoring equipment hit the market, and older adults adapt to electronic visits. The population will become more device-savvy over time, and telemedicine, like online banking, is likely to play an ever-larger role in delivering a vital service.

Source: Society for Certified Senior Advisors, Blog, Thursday, July 9, 2020

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