A world pivoting to virtual experiences in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic has raised interest in receiving health care from home — and health care providers have responded to demand. More than 75% of hospitals across the country now provide some form of telehealth services, according to the American Hospital Association.
Because telehealth is remote, it can be fitting for seniors who have limited mobility, limited access to transportation, or other factors that cause them to receive infrequent care.
“It’s always a challenge, especially for our frail, older patients, to come into the office,” says Cleveland Clinic Center for Geriatric Medicine Section Chief Dr. Ardeshir Hashmi. But the conveniences and increased access to care have “opened up a lot of avenues,” he says. “I think it’s the way of the future.”
Read on to learn Hashmi’s insights on how telehealth works, when it’s right for seniors, and how senior living communities utilize it to improve senior care.
Telehealth is the delivery of medical services through technology, often supplementing or replacing traditional, in-person health care. According to Hashmi, health care providers may offer a range of telehealth options, including:
Telehealth is convenient and offers opportunities to improve senior care, says Hashmi.
“I think health systems should be bringing that technology into people’s homes from the affordability angle, but also from the usability angle,” Hashmi says. Although seniors are often stereotyped as being challenged by new technologies, “many can actually can navigate the technology pretty easily,” Hashmi notes. “Our patients have done well with it.”
Depending on your loved one’s specific needs, there may be no substitute for in-person interaction with a medical professional. In-person visits are especially important during medical emergencies or if your family member has a health condition involving balance, the heart, or the lungs, Hashmi explains.
Some other factors to consider around telehealth use include:
Telehealth is similar to senior care as a whole: It takes a team. With today’s technology, virtual collaboration allows for optimized delivery of a senior’s care. In senior living communities, telehealth allows staff members to give physicians real-time data on patients’ health metrics, Hashmi says, and also allows family caregivers to quickly coordinate with senior living staff.
And with telehealth’s ability to bridge geographical divides, Hashmi observes that more family members — even those out-of-state — can get involved in their senior loved one’s care with just a few clicks.
“One of the calls I’ve been on has been with family members simultaneously connecting from six different locations,” Hashmi says, noting how this increased family member involvement has been beneficial to seniors’ care coordination.
Hashmi sees location as another advantage for telehealth in senior living communities. Because appointments take place in a senior’s own living environment instead of a doctor’s office, physicians and family members can see more details relevant to a senior’s overall health, like prescriptions in a medicine cabinet, items in a pantry, and living arrangement specifics.
“With any care community, it has opened up a lot of communication,” says Hashmi.
This article was developed in conversation with Ardeshir Hashmi, MD, section chief of the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Geriatric Medicine, as part of a series of articles featuring expert advice from Cleveland Clinic geriatricians.
American Academy of Family Physicians. “How to collect patient vitals for telehealth visits, including AWVs.”
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U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. “Telehealth.”
UpToDate. “Telemedicine for adults.”