Telemedicine is already changing the face of healthcare, but its full potential remains to be seen. Older adults in particular stand to benefit from the widespread adoption of telemedicine into the healthcare system. What can we expect to see moving forward? Let's take a closer look.
The Changing Landscape of Telehealth
Ever-changing technological advancements result in a dynamic healthcare system. Not only is the landscape very different today than it was a mere decade ago, but it will continue to actively change in the years ahead. From virtual physician visits and remote patient monitoring to mobile apps for disease management, there are near-endless ways to improve both health and quality of life for people of all ages and states of health.
Looking Ahead with Telehealth
According to U.S. News & World Report's recent “Healthcare of Tomorrow” conference, patients and providers alike stand to gain a great deal from the comprehensive integration of telehealth into healthcare systems, including the following:
- Reduced costs
- Fewer hospital readmissions
- Improved diagnoses and treatments
- Enhanced doctor-patient relationships — particularly in rural areas
In other words, the opportunities for better care are profound. Specifically, advancements in communication represent particularly auspicious outcomes in terms of patient engagement. As Medical Director of Telemedicine at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Dr. Andrew R. Watson told US News & World Report, “We view patient portals as an absolutely critical way to reach out to consumers. It's bringing healthcare back to the patients, back to its roots.”
Even better, research indicates that the majority of Americans are open to technology, with two-thirds indicating willingness to use devices aimed at enhancing their care.
Telehealth and Older Adults
While older adults are often hesitant about change, research indicates that they may stand to benefit the most from telemedicine.
Consider the “aging in place” trend. While the majority of older adults want to remain in their homes, their loved ones often fear for their safety – and rightfully so. After all, falls in the home are a leading cause of injuries among older adults. Monitoring devices, including everything from wearables to two-way video, represent just one way telemedicine can be used to keep seniors safe and connected with help if they need it in an emergency situation.
But the benefits of telemedicine aren't limited to seniors who live independently. Research from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health determined that the use of “high-intensity” telemedicine within assisted living communities led to an 18 percent reduction in emergency room visits for residents.
Not only does all of this mean access to more responsive care for older adults, but it also comes at a significantly reduced expense. After all, paying a few hundred dollars for a monitor and subscription fees costs much less than a hospital stay and subsequent move into a nursing home following a fall or other debilitating event.
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Telemedicine also represents the potential for a huge step forward in terms of preventative health. Remote monitoring of everything from blood counts to medication management can reduce hospital visits while ensuring optimal health.
Challenges Ahead for Telemedicine
Despite all of the advantages offered by telemedicine, there are still obstacles ahead. Topping the list is the fact that many health insurance providers currently don't reimburse telemedicine services. Issues related to privacy and security, specifically as they pertain to Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) compliance, also require additional considerations.
Luckily, a number of recent federal provisions are aimed at increasing telemedicine acceptance, including the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation and the National Defense Authorization Act. Changes are also underway at various state levels.
While there are challenges to the adoption of telemedicine, healthcare experts agree that its long-term potential far outweighs its temporary problems.
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