We’ve seen how the COVID-19 response has created problems with social isolation among the elderly. The pandemic is posing serious problems for geriatric care as well. Interruption of health care is especially problematic for older adults over age 65, who are likely to live with at least one chronic condition and who account for the vast majority of hospitalizations.
Healthcare providers looking to decrease physical traffic at care facilities have turned to telehealth services to connect doctors to patients in a safer manner during the pandemic. However well-meaning these measures are, for many older adults, the shift has cut them off from care instead of connecting them.
The fact is that telemedicine is challenging—if not impossible—for many older adults in the manner it is conducted today. A recent study in JAMA Internal medicine found that a third of adults ages 65 and older face potential obstacles preventing them from seeing their doctor on a remote visit. These problems are exacerbated for low income men in rural areas of the country, especially those who are older and have disabilities or declining health.
“Telemedicine is not inherently accessible, and mandating its use leaves many older adults without access to their medical care,” said lead author Kenneth Lam, MD, a clinical fellow in geriatrics at UCSF. “We need further innovation in devices, services and policy to make sure older adults are not left behind during this migration.”
Visits are difficult even with assistance
Many older adults lack the understanding and capacity to operate the equipment involved for a telehealth visit. If patients do manage to get online and connect to a provider, the usual cues received by doctors in an in-person visit may go overlooked in a telehealth setting.
Telehealth visits are especially problematic if patients have poor hearing or eyesight, difficulty speaking or making themselves heard, or struggle with dementia. Even when elderly patients have someone help operate the equipment for a telehealth visit, 32 percent (10.8 million) of older adults still were unready, and 20 percent (6.7 million) could not even handle a telephone visit due to dementia or difficulty hearing or communicating, according to 2018 data cited in the JAMA article.
What can be done? The authors of the report call for improvements to the technology so that devices and equipment are better suited for persons with hearing and visual impairments, and services to train older adults in use of the devices. The study maintained that keeping some clinics open during the pandemic would be prudent considering the unmet needs of so many elderly patients.
Virtual care is not a virtually perfect solution as many in the industry might have us believe. Looking at the positives, the pandemic has shone a spotlight on a glaring need that telehealth services are called to address before it can be embraced as the new normal.
If your loved one is able to use teleconferencing technology, make sure his or her devices are kept in good working order, and assist with telehealth consultations whenever possible. If they reside at a care facility, the facility should be willing to work with them make telehealth visits happen.
Keeping elderly patients in touch with their doctor is crucial to their health and well-being. You have every right to ask staff to aid your loved one if he or she is unable to operate a device for telehealth visitation.
Contact a Riverside Elder Law Attorney
If you have additional questions or concerns regarding your right for your loved one to access the healthcare they need, contact the experienced elder law attorneys at Sandoval Legacy Group by calling (951) 888-1460 to schedule an appointment.
Have a question? Ask Dennis.
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