Telehealth Services: Great News for Seniors and their CaregiversTelehealth Services Great News for Seniors and their Caregivers

Blanche, 83 years old, has hypertension and requires monthly checkups with her physician. At one time, Blanche had to be driven to appointments by her daughter Claire, 52. Now that Blanche’s physician offers telemedicine services, she no longer has to travel to his practice each month. Instead, her blood pressure and other vitals are monitored remotely and check-ins with her doctor happen through two-way video calls. With telemedicine, Claire knows her mother is receiving the quality care she needs—but no longer has to take time off of work to make the 30-minute trip to and from the doctor’s office.

Until recently, having a calendar packed with weekly or monthly doctor’s appointments was simply a hallmark of getting older. But that’s slowly changing. Thanks to telehealth services, or telemedicine, seniors and their caregivers are spending less time stuck in the brick-and-mortar physician’s office and more time living their lives.

What is telemedicine?

The American Telemedicine Organization defines telemedicine as “the use of medical information exchanged from one site to another via electronic communications to improve a patient’s clinical health status.” Its goal? To create a distance health care experience that delivers the same quality and comprehensiveness as a traditional office visit.

For seniors with mobility and transportation challenges, telemedicine offers a welcome alternative to in-person office visits. This distance health care model also helps to reduce hospital readmissions, eliminate unnecessary ER trips, and empower patients to better understand and manage their own health. But seniors aren’t the only ones who stand to benefit from “virtual doctor visits.” Telemedicine also helps the people who love and care for them every day.

Why telehealth is a boon for caregivers

Time savings. With the availability of remote monitoring technologies, it’s no longer necessary to chaperone your loved one to the doctor’s office for something as simple as a blood pressure reading. You might also be relieved of the burden of having to regularly monitor your family member’s vital signs and then relay this information to their doctor. Less time spent tending to your loved one’s medical needs means having to take less time away from work and other activities, and may contribute to lower stress levels.

Cost savings. If you assume financial responsibility for some or all of your loved one’s health care costs, you should know that many providers charge less for telemedicine consultations than they do for in-person appointments. Plus, the preventive care received through telehealth services can help to lower the costs associated with ER visits and specialty services. Finally, fewer back and forth office visits means less wear and tear on your vehicle and less money spent on gas.

Peace of mind. Having an aging family member living in a distant rural area can be a recipe for anxiety. With telemedicine, you can sleep easier knowing your loved one is being monitored remotely and that providers will be alerted in real time of any problems.

What caregivers should know

It’s important to find out whether your loved one will need to make technical modifications to their home in order to utilize telehealth services (for example, installing a high-speed Internet connection). Insurance should be another consideration, as not all providers cover telemedicine services. Medicare does reimburse for limited telehealth services in certain geographic areas. In fact, in 2015, it extended coverage to seven new telehealth services, including annual wellness visits and mental health services.

With its ability to improve patient access and autonomy, lower costs, and improve outcomes, telemedicine is quickly becoming the new standard of care for providers across the nation. As a matter of fact, 52 percent of hospitals now use telehealth with their patients in forms ranging from phone and video conferencing to remote monitoring.

Why not ask your loved one’s provider about telehealth services today?

Are you interested in telemedicine and other health care delivery methods? Learn more about MHA@GW, the innovative online Executive Master of Health Administration program offered by the Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University.

Senior Advisor's knowledgeable writers blog about senior care services, trends and more.

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