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Virtual Health Care in Gerontology: Benefits, Barriers and Best Practices

Telehealth services — that is, any kind of healthcare treatment performed remotely — have existed on the fringes of healthcare for many years. But the COVID-19 pandemic spurred the adoption of telehealth to a much larger scale, as both providers and patients sought a way to mitigate the risks and strain placed on healthcare systems by the pandemic. For many patients with non-urgent health conditions, telehealth was the only avenue through which they could obtain timely treatment.

This explosion in use and the persistence of COVID-19 have helped telehealth gain footing as a legitimate treatment option long-term, particularly among providers to geriatric patients. According to a poll from the University of Michigan’s Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation, one in four adults over 50 in the United States had a virtual health appointment just during the first three months of the pandemic alone. This represents a six-times increase from the 4% mark that the same poll measured in 2019.

Telehealth and Geriatric Care

The use of telehealth should grow, as it does offer some notable advantages. For providers, it’s an efficient way to deliver care and can improve the continuity of geriatric care across different technology platforms. Telehealth also frees up caregivers from assisting older patients in getting to the healthcare office for matters that can be handled remotely.

For many geriatric patients, the telehealth option can make it easier to seek holistic healthcare regularly. Telehealth treatment also removes the risk of attending a healthcare facility for vulnerable patients.

Telehealth certainly offers some notable advantages, but as with any technology that proliferates in use, there are drawbacks and areas that require improvement. For providers, their ability to provide meaningful services to older patients with cognitive challenges is limited. Perhaps the most obvious flaw is that doctors cannot perform a physical examination if one proves necessary.

Another limitation is that many older patients might lack the experience or even access to a device with the ability to connect to a virtual visit. The prospect of the technology could be daunting. Privacy can also be a concern: patients may not know how to secure their connection, or they may not have suitable privacy in the home setting where they reside.

Fortunately, telehealth providers can take steps to ensure the best possible experiences and results for their patients. Programs like the online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner from La Salle University help providers prepare the necessary measures for practicing safe, effective telehealth.

Make Technology Accommodating

Not all patients will be familiar with all types of technology, so it’s best to make the experience as simple and straightforward as possible. Developing larger, easy-to-handle touchscreen tablets with clear displays and simple user interfaces are fantastic ways to accommodate patients with age-related sensory or cognitive impairments. Any reading for patients should exclude ambiguous wording or technical jargon in favor of common terms that are easily understood.

Help Educate and Comfort Patients

As the “Telehealth Use in Geriatrics Care” journal article notes, providers should take steps to be trained in assessing patients using video software. This preparation helps providers improve their remote assessment techniques and best practices for virtual visits. Transitioning some in-person screening and diagnostic tools into digital versions can also be an easy way to acquaint patients with digital tools. Providers should dedicate time in appointments to asking patients about concerns and issues to accessing their healthcare technology.

Take Digital Precautions

Keeping paper copies of appropriate documents is always a good idea, but providers should also protect their digital work in real-time. Find and use a simple, timely backup process for any computer and hard drive in order to ensure the protection of information in the event of an equipment failure or connectivity error. Since patient health information is private and confidential, providers should use appropriate and secure software to ensure the safety of their connections and information.

Learn more about La Salle University’s online Master of Science in Nursing Adult – Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner program.

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