If you are a caregiver for someone with Alzheimer's disease, you have likely experienced challenges associated with getting your loved one to a physician's office without complication. If you happen to live in a remote area, where access to a specialist is limited, the challenge increases exponentially.
Technology Provides a Way Out
Fortunately for people dealing with Alzheimer's, existing technologies make it much easier than it once was to be seen by a specialist. Now, it is possible to see a physician without leaving the patient's familiar environment because of telemedicine.
What Telemedicine Is
According to the American Telemedicine Association, telemedicine is the use of medical information exchanged from one site to another via electronic communications to improve a patient's clinical health status.
While this definition includes the process of handling patient information in an electronic format, for the purpose of clarity, typically the term “telemedicine” has more to do with the delivery of remote clinical services using technology than with the management of electronic health records.
Simply put, then, telemedicine is the process by which a person can receive health care from a remote location via an electronic exchange of information with a healthcare provider.
This means that an Alzheimer's patient can be seen by a specialist who may be hundreds of miles away without the need to actually travel the distance required to see the physician in person.
How Telemedicine Helps
Especially in the case of Alzheimer's patients who live in remote areas or who have limited mobility, telemedicine enables a doctor's visit that may not otherwise occur. Allowing patients to access their physician via the internet, telemedicine helps doctors monitor patients more closely and provide education and additional assistance when needed.
Telemedicine provides convenience for the patient and increased understanding of patient situations for the physician. Seeing a patient in a home setting, the physician can more clearly understand the challenges the patient faces and offer appropriate treatment options based on his or her observations.
The Technology Involved
While there may be a slight learning curve when first having a virtual doctor's visit, most technological hurdles can be easily overcome. All that is needed is a computer, tablet, or smartphone. With programs like Skype and Facetime, providing a “face-to-face” visit is easily facilitated.
Likewise, the physician can see and hear the patient, making observations based on the same type of visual and auditory cues that the physician would have in a regular office visit, without the stress to the patient.
Additional Telemedicine Benefits
Preliminary studies indicate that patients report a higher level of satisfaction with virtual doctor's visits, largely because of the convenience they afford for both patient, caregiver and doctor.
Conversing with a doctor in the comfort of familiar surroundings helps patients to be more relaxed and focused on the visit itself, rather than the distraction of a busy doctor's office and the stress of traffic.
At the physician's discretion, a follow-up office visit can be made if warranted. In many cases, however, an actual office visit is not needed, and the patient can remain in a comfortable environment.
For Alzheimer's patients, alleviating the stress of an unfamiliar environment may be especially important. Allowing patients the option of telemedicine can help relieve a burden on the patient, family caregivers, and the staff of senior living communities.
What Studies Reveal About Telemedicine and Alzheimer's
A recent article in the Huffington Post discusses the results of a telemedicine study done by the University of Rochester. Though the study centered around patients with Parkinson's and not Alzheimer's, the results give a clear indication that telemedicine has benefits.
Among patients studied, researchers found that the quality of care was high and patients actually preferred the telemedicine visit. There is little reason to think that these results would be drastically different in the case of Alzheimer's patients.
Accessing Telemedicine in Your Area
Currently, 200 telemedicine networks exist in the U.S., with approximately 3,500 service sites. That number is expected to continue to grow rapidly, as telemedicine gains an increasing foothold in standard medical practice.
A quick internet search is a good place to start when seeking telemedicine services. Additionally, your primary care physician may be able to tell you if telemedicine is available via a local practice. County and state health agencies may also provide information about telemedicine upon request.
As technologies continue to advance, the lives of older adults will be impacted in new and exciting ways. Telemedicine as it exists now will continue to evolve. For more news about technologies that help older adults and their caregivers, check out our information about Alzheimer's and senior home care.