Seniors and Telehealth

seniors and telehealth

Going through a pandemic for the last few years has taken a toll on everyone in some way. Telehealth was already becoming popular, but the use of it rose to new heights when everyone had to stay home but still needed appointments with their doctors. Though talking with your physician through a screen isn’t the same as being in the same room, telehealth has become the norm for many seniors and shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, the technology is most popular among elderly adults. The CDC reported that about 43% of those aged 65 and older used telehealth to receive care in 2021.

According to the Society of Behavioral Medicine, telehealth is defined as “remote healthcare-related interactions and the exchange of information, images, and sound through communication technologies.” The technology allows you to stay in the comfort of your home during your doctor’s appointment. You get the usual time with your physician that you’re accustomed to – which is usually 15 to 30 minutes – and your doctor will go over all your health concerns.

The Benefits of Telehealth

The University of Michigan found that the average telehealth visit is 15 minutes. That might not seem like much time, but in most cases, you only get 20 minutes with a provider if you are physically in the office. And the entire visit, including time in the waiting room, is typically about 121 minutes[1]. That’s a solid two hours, and that doesn’t include the time for commuting back and forth. Telehealth is a serious time saver!

There are many benefits of telehealth. It takes much less time out of your day to get the same treatment. In addition, telehealth saves the money and hassle of transportation and doesn’t disrupt your daily responsibilities. It also prevents you from being in a waiting room with others who might be sick – this was a key reason why telehealth exploded in popularity during the Covid-19 pandemic[2].

Some insurance companies will cover 100% of the cost of telehealth visits, while others will cover very little; check with your insurance company to find out what is covered before you opt for telehealth. This in-depth guide from the Kaiser Family Foundation focuses specifically on what Medicare covers in relation to telehealth appointments and services.

How to Have a Successful Telehealth Appointment

Telehealth appointments can seem much more casual than getting out of the house to go to the doctor’s office. But just because they seem casual doesn’t mean they are. Going into a telehealth appointment well-prepared can help you get the most out of the time you have with your doctor. Here are some tips for seniors to prepare.

Before the Appointment

·         Come prepared. Write down any questions you have for the doctor. Make a list of your medications, including over the counter drugs and supplements you take on a regular basis. If you have experienced a health issue in the last few months, write that down too – for instance, if you suffered a fall at home, you should tell your doctor about it, and discuss if a medical alert system is right for you. Rank the concerns with the most important at the top.

·         Invest in a few home testing supplies. One very obvious benefit you lose with a telehealth appointment is the “vital signs check” – the quick tests a nurse or assistant performs when you go into the doctor’s office. These can include checking your temperature, blood pressure, pulse, weight, and blood oxygen levels. Since there will be no one to get those numbers for the doctor, you can do it yourself. A pulse oximeter, self-inflating blood pressure cuff, scale, and thermometer are inexpensive, easy to use, and provide a wealth of information about your health. If you are dealing with diabetes, remember to keep a blood sugar log as well.

·         Choose the right place for your appointment. Treat your telehealth appointment just as seriously as you would treat an in-person appointment. Dress in clothing appropriate for the doctor’s office visit. Make sure you are in a quiet place that allows for privacy so you can speak freely about your health. You don’t want to deal with distractions. Keep the door closed and locked, if necessary, to ensure your privacy.

·         Practice the technology part of telehealth. It can be incredibly frustrating to run into computer issues in the minutes before your appointment. Well before your appointment, test out the system by logging into the platform, trying out your microphone and camera, and making sure your internet connection is stable. Doing this early can help ensure you are ready for your doctor when they come into the telehealth appointment.

During the Appointment

·         Speak up with any concerns. Though you are focused on talking about health matters during the visit, you can’t get the information you need if there are problems with the technology. If you are having trouble hearing the doctor or the video connection is lagging, speak up immediately. There are many options to help you, such as closed captioning or going with an audio-only option if necessary. 

·         Be patient. If your doctor doesn’t arrive at the telehealth appointment at the scheduled time, don’t immediately log off. Just as with a typical doctor’s office, sometimes appointments go over and there could be a delay in getting to yours.

·         Be open about your health. Telehealth might not feel as personal and private as the in-person visits you’re used to. Rest assured that your doctor is in a quiet office and keeping everything you say confidential. Don’t hesitate to speak about the things you need to talk about. Keep a notepad and pen close by so you can jot down information.

·         Keep the appointment on track. Remember that list of things you wanted to talk about? To make sure you get through it all, stick to your list and don’t let the conversation go off track.

After the Appointment

·         Follow up with the office if something wasn’t clear. If you were told about a new medication you need but you don’t recall the dosage or when you should start the medication, call the office to get clarification.

·         Make sure of your next appointment. Will your next appointment be in the office or via telehealth? On what day and time will the appointment take place? You might get this information during the visit with the doctor, or you might need to call right after your appointment to schedule the next one.

·         Get the suggested follow-up care. Your doctor might ask for lab work, imaging, physical therapy, or other care outside of the typical appointment. Contact the doctor’s office to ask about their referral for those services and who needs to schedule them.

·         Consider other health needs. If there are things that have been bothering you, such as problems with vision or issues with your feet, consider the broader implications. Certain medical problems can lead to an increased risk of falls, and taking a tumble can lead to injuries that telehealth simply can’t handle. An emergency response system from Alert1 can assist you if you fall down or otherwise suffer any sort of health problem that requires immediate assistance.

Troubleshooting the Technology

Telehealth is designed to be an easy way to connect with your healthcare provider. But in order to do that, you must have a working device – a laptop, tablet, or phone – that allows you to make and maintain the internet connection. If you are having trouble, the troubleshooting steps are simple:

·         Make sure the device is plugged in and has a good charge.

·         Make sure the internet is working and has a strong connection.

·         Update your internet browser if you need to do so.

·         Restart the device if necessary.

·         Close any other windows or applications.

·         If these things don’t work, try a different device.

·         If even that doesn’t work, contact your doctor’s office for help. You might still be able to keep your appointment through an audio call instead of video.

Be Proactive for Your Health

Telehealth is an excellent way to be proactive about your health. Rather than visit the doctor’s office and come into contact with those who might be sick – especially during flu season – a telehealth visit allows you to get the medical evaluation you need without the worry. Being comfortable in your own home is certainly a bonus!

There are other things you can do to stay healthy and safe. Aging in place solutions are a surefire way to mitigate your fall risk to some extent. Wearing a medical alert pendant or watch, especially an on-the-go option with fall detection, can provide peace of mind. And keeping tabs on your health, such as regularly checking your blood pressure and blood sugar at home, can help you catch problems before they become a larger issue.