For millions of patients around the world, telehealth has been a godsend. It’s a convenient and safe platform to seek medical attention, and telehealth services have been adopted by nearly 4 in 10 Americans. This includes seniors who, according to Mobi Health News’ telehealth report, have increased the use of tech for healthcare by 300%. Overall, tech-savvy seniors have found telehealth an integral lifeline during the pandemic.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for all seniors. As a matter of fact, the overall number of seniors who use telehealth at all is still only 24%. Even if up to 68% of seniors reported having the technology required, up to 52% said they still felt uncomfortable and 18% said they remained unsure of telehealth. This poses a real threat to the well-being of seniors, given that the pandemic is still ongoing and many seniors would benefit more from remote assistance.
To better cater to and develop trust with seniors, here are some ways that telehealth can be further improved.
Onboard senior-specialized healthcare workers
Because 85% of all seniors have at least one chronic health condition, most need specialist care. As such, it’s important that telehealth providers have specialists on board who can best aid in the changes of aging. Ideally, this would mean having a geriatrician since they’re specially trained in the internal and external needs of the senior body. However, medical research website Advisory explains that there is a geriatrician shortage with only 7,300 currently practicing. Hence, it’s important for platforms to connect with other senior-care-trained experts, too.
Among these options are nurse practitioners (NP). As illustrated by telehealth provider Wheel, NPs are some of the most reliable and well-trained healthcare workers that can diagnose, prescribe, manage, and treat patients of all ages. This is why in light of the physician shortage, many states are turning to NPs to fill in both physical and telehealth senior consultations. Having such senior-specialized medical experts onboard can help patients feel more satisfied with their treatment.
Heighten and explain data security practices
Understandably, many seniors question the privacy of using telehealth. Surveys show that from the beginning of the pandemic to the present, between 24-49% of all patients over 65 are worried about their personal information and data security with telehealth. It’s also important to inform senior citizens that surfing the web with a VPN can help keep their private information safe. To assuage these fears, telehealth providers should make it easier for users to study their data privacy policies. This includes HIPAA compliance, encryption, and authentication. If a provider also uses a backup protection tool like Object Lock, it’s important for this to be shared so seniors understand where their data is stored. The easier it is for seniors to find a platform’s statement and policies on these, the more credible and trustworthy they’ll feel.
That said, it’s not just enough to show what you’re doing on your end. Telehealth providers would do well to include educational resources that can teach users proper online hygiene. These can range from simple video tutorials to blog posts. Given that 90% of data breaches are due to user error, imparting tips to seniors can significantly improve data security.
Incorporate an inclusive and intuitive interface
One of the biggest telehealth criticisms is that it may not be the most inclusive. Although the tech does help those with mobility problems, it may prove to be hard to use for those who have issues with memory, balance, hearing, speech, or sight, according to JAMA Network’s senior studies. This proves especially tricky for seniors who live alone and don’t have anyone to assist them with the technology.
Unfortunately, there is still a ways to go before all-inclusivity issues in telehealth can be solved. After all, there’s still the issue of privacy in each session. That said, a valuable feature that many platforms can adopt is closed captioning and larger font size. This will make it easier for the 25% of seniors who are most worried about seeing or hearing healthcare workers. By alleviating this pressing issue, seniors will feel more confident and comfortable.
While many seniors are on the fence about telehealth, the good news is that 1 in 3 remains open and optimistic about the tech. If telehealth providers are able to tweak the services to be better designed and appealing for this large market, healthcare in the time of COVID and beyond can be more efficient and convenient.