Whether your loved one is feeling under the weather, or wants to stay-at-home during COVID-19, there are many situations when a physical appointment with a physician is not the most convenient or even the safest option.
The good news is that a physical doctor’s visit is not the only way to receive clinical care. Thanks to telemedicine, anyone - whether it’s you or your aging loved ones - can receive medical advice anytime and anywhere, without having to set foot in the doctor’s office. By taking advantage of all telemedicine has to offer, you can ensure your aging parent is receiving the healthcare they need without leaving their home.
What is Telemedicine?
Although it seems like a relatively new idea, telemedicine has been around since the 1950s when patients could call doctor’s offices with landline phones. Phone calls are no longer the only means of receiving clinical advice remotely. The advancement of technology also advanced telemedicine forward to offer services varying from video software for personal physician consultations to apps specifically for telemedicine services.
Not all telemedicine is the same, however. There are three common types available:
- Interactive Telemedicine: Also known as live medicine, this is telemedicine where doctors and patients interact in real-time.
- Remote Patient Monitoring: Remote monitoring allows caregivers to monitor their loved ones by collecting medical data such as heart rate and blood sugar, and blood pressure levels.
- Store & Forward: A patient’s health information can be stored and shared on specific platforms with specialists and physicians to create one continuous network so that any important information is easily accessible.
What are the Pros and Cons of Telemedicine Services?
Telemedicine has plenty of benefits for those who wish to take advantage of it. Besides being convenient and accessible, it is also an economical option for those who would rather have a virtual appointment than an in-person one.
Remote healthcare is not for everyone; there are some downsides to telemedicine. If you or an older loved one are considering telemedicine, you should weigh these pros and cons to see if remote appointments are right for you.
Pro: Convenience and Accessibility
Telemedicine may be appealing to you and your aging loved one as a way to provide easy access to a primary care physician or specialist. If so, you’re not alone - a recent Cisco global survey found that 74% of patients preferred telemedicine appointments to in-person visits.
A virtual appointment is a more convenient way to access healthcare when your loved one’s condition makes it harder for an in-person visit, or if they feel safer staying at home, especially during the current COVID-19 crisis. Homebound patients can use a telemedicine app or a video conferencing platform to connect with their physician without needing to leave home.
Especially for older adults, access to health services can be heavily dependent on the availability of their caregiver(s). Telemedicine reduces the time spent by a caregiver bringing their loved one to a physical appointment. It allows the caregiver to manage their time, while simultaneously alleviating some of the stress associated with caring for a loved one.
Telemedicine can help reduce healthcare service costs by reducing unnecessary visits to the hospital and the transportation expenses that can result from frequent checkups.
Besides reducing expenses from in-person doctor visits, time savings from telemedicine may also help caregivers who can now spend more time at work or doing side jobs rather than driving their loved one to an appointment.
Pro: Quality Patient Care
Virtual telemedicine services can also increase patient engagement. Patients can better maintain their own appointments and doctor’s schedules tend to be more flexible. By being engaged in their own healthcare goals, elderly loved ones can stay motivated to care for their own health and foster independence.
Telemedicine also allows for urgency. Patients and caregivers with healthcare concerns can address these in real-time with urgent care consultations and receive answers in minutes.
Con: Fewer In-Person Appointments & Limitations
Telemedicine is not for everyone. Your loved one may prefer the personal touch of having an in-person appointment with their primary care physician.
Caregivers may also be concerned about service limitations, since not all procedures can be performed virtually. However, for exams that do not need a patient’s physical presence, telemedicine can be a valuable resource.
Con: Physicians May Not Be Equipped
Since telemedicine is a rapidly evolving field, some hospitals and physician practices are playing catch-up and are not yet equipped for telemedicine. However, more and more doctors' offices are adopting these services .
In the aftermath of COVID-19, it’s likely that telemedicine will become a staple at most healthcare facilities. Telemedicine protects both patients and staff from potential outbreaks and allows accessible care, even for those in remote distance from a clinic.
How Can Seniors and Caregivers Utilize Telemedicine?
Caregivers and seniors can take advantage of the benefits of telemedicine by finding what services will best suit their needs. Since telemedicine encompasses a wide range of services, distinguishing what needs have to be met is the first step to picking the right remote technology for you.
Here are a couple of situations where telemedicine can be useful:
- If your loved one has frequent routine checkups which cause you to take time off work repeatedly, a live video conferencing service could be useful for saving travel time.
- If you or your aging loved one needs consultations with certain specialists other than their primary doctors, or if you live far from the nearest hospital, then virtual appointments would be more accessible options.
- A telemedicine app can be useful to store information and set reminders to help manage routine checkups.
- If you’re deciding whether or not your loved one’s symptoms warrant an emergency room visit, you can live chat a doctor to get your answers quickly.
Another common telemedicine service is mobile health apps. These could be used on smartphones or tablets and be easily accessible to both patient and caregiver. These apps can help physicians diagnose a patient’s symptoms by uploading pictures, or for patients to request prescriptions electronically without a phone call.
Teletherapy Services for Caregivers
Not all telemedicine software is exclusively focused on healthcare services for patients; there are also resources for caregivers as well.
Teletherapy services are available to help caregivers reduce stress and care for their mental health. These services range from virtual therapy to self-help apps and are readily accessible for caregivers. Apps like Talkspace and LARKR pair you with a licensed therapist so you can either livestream video chat or message them without the hassle of scheduling an in-person appointment and waiting for availability.
There are other options, such as apps that feature relaxing games and yoga sessions to help reduce any anxiety and better your mental health.
Are Telemedicine Services Covered by Insurance?
Currently, there is no standard for private health insurance providers regarding telemedicine. Coverage varies by service and geography.
Medicaid covers telemedicine in 48 states, including services such as real-time communication, store-and-forward technology, remote patient monitoring, and mhealth (mobile health). Medicare Part B covers certain telemedicine services, such as interactive video conferencing and psychotherapy.
As telemedicine technology becomes more advanced and mainstream, it’s likely that more insurance providers will offer coverage to make these valuable services available to all who need them.
If telemedicine seems right for you and your loved one, reach out to your insurance provider and see what services are covered. Or, if you need help seeing what your plan covers or deciding what appointments should use telemedicine or not, Homethrive’s Care Guides could be right for you. Care Guides are eldercare specialists and can give expert advice on what services would best suit your caregiving needs.
In addition to Homethrive’s standard offering, there are a few specific areas where Homethrive can help mitigate effects of the pandemic: COVID-19 : How Homethrive can Help.