Winter 2018–2019

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Telemedicine For Seniors


Telemedicine for seniors helps keep them out of the doctor’s office.

No one likes to visit the doctor. But for seniors with chronic health conditions, who live in rural areas, or who have to consult with multiple specialists, doctor visits can become especially burdensome. Telemedicine offers a way to keep seniors comfortable at home through services such as remote patient monitoring and video conferencing.

Although services vary by health care provider, telemedicine is growing. According to Ken Research, telehealth — a term that generally includes telemedicine’s remote clinical services — generated $9.6 billion in annual revenue, a 60 percent increase from 2012. The firm expects the telehealth market to grow to $38.5 billion in revenue by 2018.

Telemedicine promises to save patients money and improve outcomes. The convenience factor also makes it a huge draw for seniors. Samantha Lippolis, telehealth director for Centura Health, a non-profit health care system that serves Colorado and western Kansas, says telemedicine offers seniors the option to stay home and still be monitored by a physician.

Remote patient monitoring (RPM) allows patients to electronically transmit vital signs and other health data via a tablet or other device. Health care professionals then monitor patients remotely and make recommendations as needed.

For example, a patient with chronic heart disease may log his blood pressure, weight and blood oxygen daily. If one of those vital signs starts to deviate abnormally, a nurse may call him and ask, “Did you take your medication today?”

“These programs are designed to ensure that seniors follow through on prescribed treatment,” says Jonathan Neufeld, chief technology officer for Indiana-based Oaklawn Psychiatric Center and Clinical Director of the Upper Midwest Telehealth Resource Center.

Videoconferencing allows some patients to meet with specialists without having to spend hours driving.
In most cases, patients can visit their local clinic and meet with a specialist via video. “Patients are more likely to see their cardiologist if they don’t have to drive so far,” says Lippolis. “For a post-surgery visit that might take ten minutes, it’s much easier on the patient to schedule a video appointment.”

Seniors interested in telemedicine should check with their health care provider and insurers to find out what’s available and what’s covered. Medicare covers telehealth services such as remote radiology, pathology and some cardiology as “physician services.” Medicare currently covers videoconferencing for beneficiaries in rural areas only.

Medicare Advantage offers more flexibility, while benefits covered under private insurance vary by provider and state. “Medicare is motivated to make changes in health care so that we pay smarter and not more,” says Neufeld. “Accountable Care Organizations are motivated to use telemedicine because they want to prevent care rather than just provide care.”

For seniors who want to spend more time doing what they enjoy and less time in the doctor’s office, telemedicine offers many advantages. “It’s worth the effort if you want to be well,” says Lippolis. “It’s a great way for seniors to take charge of their own health.”