Telemedicine: The Future of Senior Healthcare
For many seniors, leaving the home for a doctor’s appointment can be more than difficult. This is especially true for older adults who have been recently released from a hospital or rehabilitation center.
The healthcare system is overtaxed, doctors and nurses are in high demand and there is a projected increase in seniors. These things combined are the reason we need to focus on telehealth that improves care coordination and management. Telehealth can change the way older adults experience healthcare.
These advancements in technology are making it possible for seniors to experience a doctor’s visit from the comfort of their home. Allowing older adults to live their golden years happily and comfortably.
The American Telemedicine Association defines telehealth a “the use of medical information exchanged from one site to another via electronic communications to improve a patient’s clinical health status.”
There are several Virtual Medical Centers already in an exciting pilot program, Mercy Hospitals is in the forefront of the field with a new virtual care center in Missouri.
Telehealth can lower costs for care, improve health care outcomes and provide convenience for millions of people around the world.
There are more hospitals now using telehealth with their patients than those that are not using any form of telemedicine. There is a variety of telehealth formats ranging from video or phone conferencing to remote monitoring.
Telehealth vs. Telemedicine
Telehealth is more than telemedicine, it is a broad range of technology that services patients and improves the healthcare delivery system. Telehealth can refer to remote non-clinical services; provider training, continuing healthcare education, and administrative meetings.
The World Health Organization states that telehealth includes, “Surveillance, health promotion, and public health functions”
Telemedicine refers to specific clinical services. It’s a subcategory of telehealth, it refers solely to the healthcare services and education with the use of telecommunications technology.
Telemedicine technology is commonly used for follow-up visits, medication management, specialist consultations, management of chronic conditions and other clinical services that can be done remotely via a secure video and audio connection.
All telemedicine is telehealth, but not all telehealth is telemedicine. They are both parts of a large effort to expand access to health care to patients and improve the efficiency of the healthcare delivery network.
Unfortunately, there are many seniors who are unaware if they have telehealth coverage on their Medicare plan. There are many older adults who have never used telehealth and could benefit from this form of care.
Financial Benefits of Telehealth
Office and emergency room visits can be costly and sometimes unnecessary. For many conditions, seniors can be evaluated and even treated remotely.
With telehealth technology, physicians can notice early warning signs associated with chronic conditions, allowing for early intervention; which reduces the chance of hospital readmission.
There was one study that found by implementing telehealth programs into nursing homes there would be a reduction in costs associated with transferring residents to emergency rooms and physicians’ offices.
If hybrid telehealth technology was implemented into nursing facilities. It could eliminate 387,000 transports to emergency rooms annually, that would result in a cost savings of $327 million. Telehealth could even eliminate the 6.87 million transports to doctors’ offices and save $479 million.
It lowers the risk of hospital readmission, nursing home admission, and has the potential to save the health system millions of dollars each year.
Telehealth Benefits Caregivers and Family Members
Whether a caregiver is a part-time Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) or another family member, taking care of another person can be difficult. Telehealth is a valuable tool that will help ease the burden for all caregivers.
This technology will allow caregivers with full-time jobs to avoid taking excess time off from work to drive a relative to and from a doctors’ appointment.
These services empower a family by giving them more chances to ask questions and be proactive in their senior’s care and recovery.
Telehealth allows caregivers to receive personalized guidance from a registered nurse when they need it, instead of having to wait for a scheduled doctors’ visit to speak with a professional.
Seniors are at a higher risk for developing chronic conditions that typically require a specialist’s care. A specific type of specialist may not always be found in every community, meaning travel would be required and that is difficult for seniors with limited mobility.
Telehealth makes receiving care from a specialist outside the community easier, which improves quality of life.
A nonprofit in Pennsylvania that runs senior living communities reduced the percentage of patients moving into nursing homes by 8 percent.
This was achieved by having frail patients wear a monitor device that would alert nurses immediately if a fall happened,. This allowed for a quick response to the patient.
If you have ever used any form of technology, you know there can be challenges. There could be plenty of reasons that connection would be difficult; inclement weather, weak Wi-Fi connections or even just electronic glitches.
Just like in the physicians’ office, confidentiality rules will apply to telehealth. Unfortunately, electronically transmitted information is susceptible to hackers. Patients should understand technology and their legal rights as far as privacy.
Patients that do not know how to use technology properly should have assistance setting up their devices to ensure they are properly protected. Passwords on Wi-Fi accounts, firewalls, and other virtual tools will help enable seniors to have a secure connection with their doctor.
Many healthcare providers would have already adopted senior telehealth services if they were paid to offer that service.
To get the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to pay providers, CMS will need to loosen its restrictions on where telehealth and telemedicine programs can be run and how the doctors’ using the programs can be reimbursed.
The only other drawback would be the inability for a physician to do a physical exam. There may be some illness that would require being able to touch or feel the patient. Ultimately necessitating an in-person doctors’ office visit.
Ideally, with many others using telehealth, wait times would be less. Seeing a doctor would become more convenient when it was required.
The Future of Senior Care
Challenges are ahead for the future of telehealth; including legal and regulatory, privacy and confidentiality, as well as reimbursement issues.
The best things in life take time. Once all the kinks are worked out, telehealth will be the way we all receive health care advice.
The wearable devices like the “Fitbit” will become more advanced with time; they will eventually be capable of tracking and sending up to date information to a doctor or specialist. Giving them the most accurate health data about you, allowing you to live longer and healthier.
In 2013, 52% of hospitals were utilizing telehealth services, and another 10% were beginning to implement them.
The benefits of telemedicine are in abundance; no more waiting rooms, easier access to care, and prolonged autonomy. Telehealth will contribute to improved health and a better quality of life for millions of seniors and people across the globe.
Seniors are living longer, healthier and more active lives now than they were many years ago; telemedicine will be a program that improves social and clinical outcomes at senior living facilities, long-term care facilities and seniors receiving care at home.