Telehealth – One Way (of Many) Senior Loved Ones’ Health Can Benefit from Technology

Family caregivers are quickly learning how valuable technology can be in their everyday lives as they are caring for their senior loved ones and their own families.

They are asking Alexa or Google Assistant to lend them a hand by turning on soothing music, switching on the lights in a dark room, or even ordering dinner when they just don’t have time to cook.

But there are other ways that using technology can help family caregivers provide optimal care for seniors especially with regard to their health and well-being.

Enter telehealth – –  but what is it?

Principles of Telehealth

Telehealth is a fast-growing way in which medical professionals of all specialties are using a broad variety of technologies and tactics to deliver virtual medical, health, and education services.

In fact, the 2017 Telemedicine and Digital Health Survey found that 53% of providers planned to offer telehealth medical services in the coming year which is up from three years ago when 87% of healthcare providers did not think patients would begin using this technology.

Virtual health care can help family caregivers get the prompt medical attention their seniors need without the struggle of appointments, transportation, waiting time, or other hassles that make visiting the medical team impossible for many at times.

Seniors and Doctors

Unfortunately, as many family caregivers are acutely aware, seniors often are scheduled to visit a variety of medical professionals regularly.

Regular checkups, prescription refills, follow-up appointments, blood work, medical procedures, imaging studies, and other preventive care appointments keep seniors (and, in many cases, their family caregivers) forever sitting in waiting rooms. Let’s not forget, routine visits to the pharmacy to fill prescriptions or to refill their over the counter health remedy choices.

There are medical doctors, nurse practitioners, podiatrists, cardiologists, renal doctors, dentists, eye doctors, gerontologists, endocrinologists, dietitians, care coordinators and many other medical professionals that our seniors need to see on a regular basis to manage a multitude of chronic diseases.

There are many trips back and forth and time spent waiting to stay healthy. The more appointments there are, the less patience we all have when dealing with getting there, waiting, and finally returning home. It is burdensome for both seniors and their caregivers.

Is there a better way? Telehealth for seniors may be an answer to the prayers of family caregivers.

Telehealth – Digital Health

Using telehealth can reduce the amount of time spent waiting and will definitely reduce the wear and tear of transportation on seniors and family caregivers, not to mention the family car!

When technology can be engaged to monitor vital signs such as blood pressure, weight changes, blood sugar, pulse, oxygenation status, and heart rate, doctors require fewer visits and hopefully the number of health crises requiring a hospital visit will decline.

How desirous is a regular health exam from the comfort of your senior’s home?

Improvements in telehealth mean that medical professionals can do even more than checking blood sugar. With telehealth, they can monitor cardiac status with home EKG, adjust medications or dosages to prevent health crisis, monitor adherence to diabetic therapy, monitor sleep patterns, provide rehab services post stroke, and administer life-saving treatments, and give mental health counseling all virtually.

Real Time, Any Place Care

The beauty of telemedicine is that it is connecting seniors and healthcare professionals in real time!

Would your senior like to wear a t-shirt that measures their cardiac function and can detect altered heart rate, atrial fibrillation, and stroke? It’s coming!

In addition to providing routine medical care via virtual consults in rural areas where there are often few medical professionals, doctors will be able to perform surgery virtually when there may not be trained professionals in the right location to meet the needs of seniors.

In emergencies, EMTs and paramedics can use telehealth via apps to help diagnose and treat seniors in the field. This type of new app can allow hands free care by emergency personnel as they use voice control to get treatment plans from the app tailored to the specific needs of the emergent situation.

Virtual reality technology will add to the abilities of healthcare professionals to provide care and treatment out of the office and in the home.

Changes to Reimbursement Opens the Door

“Who will pay for telehealth?” has been a major obstacle for health professionals providing digital health and remains an obstacle for many practitioners.

Health professionals are licensed in the state where they reside or their office is located, so providing virtual care across state lines has been a major stumbling block for who wish to offer this care. Many health professionals are asking for national instead of state licensure to solve this issue.

State laws covering informed consent are also obstacles for the use of telehealth. Some states have dropped the requirement for informed consent of telehealth care.

Insurance providers, including the government who reimburses a majority of seniors through Medicare and Medicaid, historically will only pay the bill when the care was delivered from a clinic setting to another clinic setting, which means home visits weren’t covered.

Family caregivers need these rules and regulations to change and have reimbursement policies up to date with current technology for the benefit of seniors.

Doctors and other health professionals have been reluctant to engage with digital health solutions because they haven’t been paid to read the streams of data digital health devices and apps are generating each day. Given all the demands on the professionals’ time, it isn’t feasible for them to read emails, texts and vital sign data when they don’t get paid for it.

Reimbursement changed as of January 1, 2018. Medicare and Medicaid will begin reimbursing physicians. “Clinicians should use digital tools in such a way that allows them to provide ongoing guidance and assessments for patients outside of the in-office visit. This includes the collection and use of patient generated health data.” This will inevitably lead to more physicians encouraging seniors to begin making use of digital health.

Even the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is being pushed to approve medical devices and telehealth service platforms to help move this tech innovation into more accessible reality.

Seniors Benefit from Telehealth

Who wouldn’t want medical care and treatment available to seniors on a 24/7 basis not just during office hours.

Preventing hospital stays, reducing ER visits, avoiding doctor office waiting and transportation logistics is worth the learning curve that using technology for health may have for some seniors and caregivers.

Seniors can get checkups via telehealth so they don’t have to sit in the waiting room for what feels like hours. Face to face visits can be done virtually using technology.

Emergency first aid with a trained health professional will mean we can keep fragile seniors out of the emergency room as much as possible.

Using digital health tools such as mobile health applications, remote patient monitoring and personal health records will improve access and ultimately the health of our senior loved ones.

Getting them connected should be on family caregivers To Do list this year!