The invasion of the COVID-19 pandemic into American society has disrupted access to healthcare. One of the impacted groups are persons 65 years and older. This group is projected to double from 52 million in 2018 to 95 million by 2060, and the percentage of persons 65 years and older will rise from 16 percent to 23 percent.
As this population grows and ages, an increased need for interaction with healthcare providers will be required. Unfortunately, it is not realistic for all patients to be able to have in-office visits with their providers. Obstacles preventing person-to-provider visits include transportation issues, walking issues, and compromised health systems impacting many patients needing care.
One recent advance in health treatment is telehealth, an option that allows healthcare professionals to visit with patients virtually through the use of technology. Telehealth usage has increased. In the early months of COVID-19’s rapid spread across the United States, 71% of patients had considered telemedicine while half had already gone through with a virtual appointment.
In a survey of approximately 1,000 individuals 65 years and older on Medicare Advantage plans by the Better Medicare Alliance, 24% said they had used telehealth during the COVID-19 crisis. Only 52% of the group said they are comfortable using telehealth to access care, 30% said they are uncomfortable, and 18% were unsure of telehealth.
How can this group be encouraged to utilize telehealth and gain reassurance that if developed correctly, it can be safe, secure, and protected?
Here are some suggestions for older individuals to help protect and educate themselves about cybersecurity and internet protection.
Try these actions:
- Ask a family member for help or suggestions about internet security.
- Smart phones can be utilized the same as computers
- Make sure the Wi-Fi router is secure (username and password).
- Have virus and phishing programs on the computer and make sure they are current and operating (security software).
- Frequently scan the computer with software programs to check for suspicious files.
- Contact a computer store to develop a computer service plan and security program.
Some of these suggestions can cost over $100/year for companies to provide service. Many times, just purchasing a virus protection program and having a computer store install it on the computer can be easier for older individuals. Yet, these individuals may still need education and instructions on operating programs correctly and often.
There is an obvious trend moving to telehealth, but the individuals age 65 and older who could benefit the most from it are hesitant to become involved. Organizations which support individuals age 65 and older need to promote and encourage the use of telehealth as a practical resource. Telehealth groups within the medical institutions need to reach out to individuals age 65 and older to encourage participation. And families need to pursue this option for family members who meet this criterion. We must also promote application specialists to concentrate on teaching apps for patients age 65 and older, to help these individuals achieve confidence with technology. Sometimes, with just a small amount of encouragement, older individuals can and will participate in this program.
The more comfortable older patients become with operating a computer or smart phone, the less intimidated they will be and their health will benefit.
By: W. David Wagner MSN, RN
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Mather, M., Scommegna, P., & Kilduff, L. (2019). Facts sheet: aging in the United States.
Wicklund, E. (2020). Survey suggest seniors aren’t using telehealth during COVID-19 crisis.
Zimiles, A. (2020). Four statistics that prove that telemedicine isn’t just a pandemic fad. https://www.medicaleconomics.com/view/four-new-statistics-that-prove-that-telemedicine-isn-t-just-a-pandemic-fad