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July 12, 2018

How Telehealth Changes Senior Care

Summary:

Telemedicine is a game changer for seniors who live in rural areas with few doctors or who have chronic illnesses or mobility issues.

Photo Courtesy of Pexels

Many baby boomers would be willing to give virtual healthcare a try, but they want to be sure that an e-visit or other type of remote care is just as good as the care they would get in person. They also want to be confident that their health information stays private.

For seniors who live in rural areas with few doctors, telemedicine would improve their access to healthcare and be more convenient. For many people with chronic illnesses or mobility issues, making it to the doctor’s office can be an ordeal. With telehealth, they can have the doctor visit virtually.

What Is Telehealth

Telehealth is a collection of methods for enhancing healthcare, public health and health education delivery and support by using telecommunication technology. Today, telehealth covers four domains of applications. Each state and insurance company varies in its use and reimbursement of these applications. They are commonly known as:

  • Live Video Conferencing (Synchronous): This is a live, two-way interaction between a person and a provider by using audiovisual telecommunications technology. The Center for Connected Health Policy made a micro-documentary video, “Telehealth Saves Lives,” that shows how video telehealth can be a lifesaving technology.
  • Store-and-Forward (Asynchronous): This will allow recorded health history to be transmitted through an electronic communication system to a practitioner, usually a specialist, who uses the data to evaluate the case or render a service outside of a real-time or live interaction. This technology will allow access to specialty care, even when there are limited board-certified specialists in the community.
  • Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM): With RPM, patients will be able to transmit their personal health and medical data from one location to a provider in a different location via electronic communication technologies for use in care and related support. “Telehealth and Quality of Care” is another video from The Center for Connected Health Policy that demonstrates how remote patient monitoring can help individuals stay healthy in their home.
  • Mobile Health (mHealth): This is the healthcare and public health practice and education supported by mobile communication devices like, tablets computers, cell phones and iPads. Applications can range from text messages that encourage healthy choices to large-scale alerts about disease outbreaks.

Telehealth encompasses a variety of technologies and tactics that deliver virtual medical, health, and education services. Telehealth is a collection of means to enhance care and health education, not a specific service.

What Will Telehealth Do for Seniors?

The older we get, the more health issues that arise. Therefore, seniors are more likely to experience chronic conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease. Both illnesses require routine monitoring from healthcare providers.

With telehealth technology, doctors can now keep an eye on things such as blood pressure and sugar levels. Routine doctor’s visits can be costly and difficult for seniors to attend, especially if the elderly person has mobility problems or limited access to transportation.

The use of telehealth can improve communication between providers and patients, allowing physicians to monitor an older patient’s overall health. This level of monitoring can allow providers to discern when patients may be becoming sick or at risk of experiencing a medical emergency.

While seniors are at a higher risk for developing chronic conditions that require care provided by specialists, specialists are not always located in every community, and travel is often warranted. This can be difficult for seniors.

Telehealth removes the barriers of location and mobility, connecting more seniors with necessary care provided by specialists. Telehealth also makes it easier for family members who live far away to stay connected to their elders’ care program. This will relieve some of the stress associated with caring for seniors.

See also: Navigating Telehealth for HR and Employers  

When telemedicine is used, caregivers have greater access to providers. These providers can give them information that helps provide more effective care. Without a need for routine in-person visits to providers, caregivers can dedicate more time to care at home or in their own personal and professional lives.

Not only is telehealth more practical for routine monitoring and time efficiency, it is a more cost-effective option for both patients and providers.

  • Telehealth has the potential to make physicians more money, because telehealth allows for less time-consuming individual consultations, meaning the doctor has time to see more patients each day.
  • Telehealth means big savings for patients, because consultations delivered virtually usually cost less, and money is saved when travel is eliminated.

When nursing homes adopt telehealth technologies, up to $327 million can be saved each year through a reduction in the need for emergency room visits. Telehealth is a life saver and a money saver.

Medicare and Telehealth

Medicare tightly restricts what it will pay for, so seniors have a harder time getting telehealth covered. Some private insurance companies are increasingly covering certain services like virtual visits.

Luckily for Medicare recipients, Congress passed a law last winter that expands Medicare coverage for options such as video visits to diagnose stroke symptoms or check on home dialysis patients.

Medicare Part B would cover the cost of telemedicine services, but the patient needs to fulfill certain conditions.

Medicare Advantage programs are used by a third of beneficiaries and can start offering additional telehealth options. This is a step in the right direction, but it certainly doesn’t cover everything.

Costs are already a major issue for people who need continuing assistance, and telehealth is still new. For telehealth to save the most money, it will need to replace in-person care, not add to it.

More than half of adults of all ages would be comfortable with a video doctors visit via FaceTime or Skype to discuss medications, treatment for continuing care of a chronic illness or even for an urgent health concern.

High-risk patients who use daily telehealth monitoring are less likely to be readmitted to the hospital. This isn’t about just having Skype in the home; it’s about having a team of healthcare professionals who are supporting the care of a patient.

See also: Whiff of Market-Based Healthcare Change?  

The Security of Telehealth

The privacy and security of protected health information (PHI) is very important to insurance companies, doctors and patients. With new technology, usually, comes new challenges. With every problem comes a solution, and by making smart choices patient data can be protected.

Telehealth services are legally required to abide by Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) mandates. HIPAA is concerned with the protection of patient medical records, always improving privacy and reducing fraud.

To be sure the health data is safe, your telehealth system should comply with the HIPAA guidelines. To comply, you will need:

  • Business Associate Agreement (BAA): This is a written contract between a covered entity and a business associate that establishes the permitted uses and disclosures.
  • Transport Encryption: This must-have encryption for data security converts the sensitive information into a meaningless stream of seemingly random data.
  • Storage Encryption for the Videos Stored in a Device: This will encode backed-up and archived data on storage media.
  • Properly Stored Data: You have many options here like a flash drive or a cloud storage; in any case, make sure you choose a HIPAA-compliant product or service.

Telehealth can be a secure way to receive medical care and reduce further stress for seniors and caregivers. Telemedicine care is the future of healthcare. Telehealth will save money, time and patients’ lives.

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About the Author

Jagger Esch is the president and CEO of Elite Insurance Partners and MedicareFAQ, a senior healthcare learning resource center.

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