What Seniors Should Know About Telehealth
The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way the United States has gone about daily life. Social distancing is the new norm; essential work, the grocery store, and the hospital are the only places Americans can go. Masks are being recommending (and in some places, required) for daily activities, and teleworking is becoming standard practice for many companies. Despite being at home, people are beginning to determine new and creative ways to stay busy and receive important items or information with the resources and technology available in this modern age.
One resource that ought to be utilized more, both during the COVID-19 pandemic and going forward, is telehealth. Telehealth is a larger term describing the ability to receive health information remotely or virtually. At the time of this blog, the newly passed CARES Act included telehealth coverage for Medicare recipients with the ongoing health crisis in mind. But what is telehealth, and what does it include? When should people seek telehealth or go to the doctor in person? And is it only relevant in a pandemic situation? We at iDeal Comparison took a closer look at telehealth and what it means for seniors, both during the coronavirus pandemic and beyond.
What Is Telehealth?
Telehealth is an overarching term, encompassing many facets of healthcare. It includes health information services, medical care, and health education. There are numerous categories that are valuable and should be utilized in the telehealth world, especially for seniors.
Telemedicine is a specific category under the broader telehealth spectrum. Telemedicine is most commonly known as health care services performed or provided remotely via electronic communication. Doctors and healthcare providers can remotely visit with patients for wellness and follow-up appointments, and can even provide care for minor illnesses or ailments.
Doctors and patients can “meet” with virtual appointments, during which tests or prescriptions can be ordered based on the visit. This service can be particularly valuable for seniors. Seniors are one of the most at-risk groups for severe illness from COVID-19. By taking advantage of a virtual video or telephone conference with their healthcare provider, seniors can practice social distancing and safely maintain their health.
Patient portals also fall under general telehealth services. More and more offices are utilizing patient portals. They allow for direct (and secure) written communication between the provider and patient. Patients can receive and discuss test results, put in for a prescription refill, review past appointments and schedule future ones. Patient portals are convenient and quick, requiring simply a login and internet connection.
Remote monitoring, another telehealth tool, uses apps and devices to monitor various health markers, including blood pressure, blood sugar levels, or even lung function. Family, caregivers, and doctors can monitor many health factors remotely, thus obtaining important information and even potentially protecting the life of the patient. This is especially important for seniors living alone who may need additional care. In fact, many medical alert systems are not only mobile health systems, but also include some of these monitoring features, which can be explored further here. Remote monitoring can save lives, and is a useful tool to track health under any condition.
Why Telehealth Is Important
All of these telehealth tools and features are incredibly innovative and helpful. But why are they important? What is the advantage of using telehealth when you can simply go to see a doctor? And is it only for this COVID-19 pandemic?
There are numerous reasons to use telehealth and telemedicine. First, it saves seniors a trip to the doctor for straight-forward appointments. Doctors and patients can discuss test results and refill prescriptions without having to go to and from the office, ultimately saving time and money for the patient. Virtual appointments can also be more cost effective than in-office visits. The new CARES Act has provided coverage for telemedicine for Medicare users, providing even more incentive to save the trip to see the doctor in person. And for times when minor illnesses occur, telehealth can allow seniors to get proper rest while also receiving care and even a diagnosis.
Telemedicine and virtual doctor appointments can help determine whether the patient’s illness or injury requires a simple prescription and rest, or if it’s best to escalate care to the office or to a hospital. Telehealth can also provide access to medical care that wouldn’t otherwise exist. Seniors who live in more remote areas or can’t easily get to appointments can take advantage of the ability to be seen without leaving the house or going a long distance for healthcare.
When Seniors SHOULD Use Telehealth
A commonly asked question concerns when telehealth should be used. How does the patient know when to use telehealth resources or go to the doctor instead?
Simple illnesses such as allergies, the common cold, or minor infections can often be handled virtually. General consultations, post-surgical follow-ups, and management of chronic issues such as diabetes or arthritis are also great reasons to seek care virtually. Some specialties, including dermatology, psychology and psychiatry, and ophthalmology, can consult and treat with pictures or with tools like Skype and FaceTime. And even some oncological appointments can be done virtually to ease the burden of going back and forth to the office on patients receiving cancer treatments.
Telemedicine is particularly useful for COVID-19. With the fear and ease of transmission with the coronavirus, seniors should be avoiding others as much as possible. This is the perfect time to use telehealth resources for the reasons that have already been mentioned, if not to simply protect themselves from contracting this deadly disease. The same can be said going forward – flu season and the likelihood of the coronavirus returning should give seniors pause, and using telemedicine can save them from becoming seriously ill. Remote monitoring tools can even give doctors and caregivers more accurate information on the health of the patient. This can provide the opportunity to find health problems early before they become more serious or even change the current health plan according to the gathered data.
When Seniors SHOULDN’T Use Telehealth
Telehealth and telemedicine, however, should NEVER be used in an emergency situation. If seniors are experiencing any symptoms common with heart attack, stroke, or other severe signs of distress, they should seek immediate help from their doctor or a hospital. Seniors who become physically injured should also seek in-person care. A major concern when seniors live on their own is possibility of falling. Seniors should always seek immediate care if they have fallen and become badly injured. Medical alert systems are extremely important in these cases, particularly when seniors fall and don’t have the ability to get to the hospital or even move. They can receive immediate help with a push of the button, or if they go unconscious, can alert emergency responders with fall detection. These devices have been researched and ranked by iDeal Comparison here, and should be considered for use, particularly during COVID-19 quarantining regulations.
Telehealth is becoming more prevalent as society becomes more technologically advanced. The advent of virtual meetings and communication can be advantageous, particularly for seniors, for added protection during seasonal illnesses (or pandemics), greater access to medical care, and saving time and money. Always consult your doctor about the benefits of telehealth and when to use it. You may be surprised at how helpful it can be!