Telehealth Visits Skyrocket for Older Adults, but Concerns and Barriers Remain | #healthcare | #elderly | #seniors
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One in four older Americans had a virtual medical visit in the first three months of the COVID-19 pandemic, most of them by video, a new telehealth poll finds. That’s much higher than the 4% of people over 50 who said they had ever had a virtual visit with a doctor in a similar poll taken in 2019.
Comfort levels with telehealth, also called telemedicine, have also increased. Back in 2019, most older adults expressed at least one serious concern about trying a telehealth visit. But by mid-2020, the percentage with such concerns had eased, especially among those who had experienced a virtual visit between March and June of this year.
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Yet not all older adults see virtual care as an adequate substitute for in-person care, even in a pandemic, the National Poll on Healthy Aging findings show.
And 17% of people over 50 still say they have never used any sort of video conferencing tool for any reason, including medical care. While that’s 11 percentage points lower than in the 2019 poll, that lack of experience or access could be a barrier to receiving care without having to leave home as the pandemic continues to surge in dozens of states.
Both the 2019 and 2020 polls were done by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation with support from AARP and Michigan Medicine, U-M’s academic medical center. Both involved a national sample of more than 2,000 adults aged 50 to 80.
“These findings have implications for the health providers who have ramped up telehealth offerings rapidly, and for the insurance companies and government agencies that have quickly changed their policies to cover virtual visits,” says Lorraine Buis, Ph.D., M.S.I., a health information technology researcher at U-M who helped design the poll and interpret its results. “Tracking change over time could inform future efforts, and highlights the need for much more research on concerns, barriers and optimal use of telehealth by older adults.”
“This has been an extraordinary time for the telemedicine movement, and these poll results show just how powerful this ‘trial by fire’ has been,” says Jeff Kullgren, M.D., M.P.H., M.S., associate director of the poll, health care researcher and a primary care provider who uses telehealth with his patients at the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System. “But our data also highlight areas of continued concern for patients that need to be addressed.”