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Most elderly patients have a tough time with telehealth

04 May 2021

Despite the general shift to telemedicine amid the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, most elderly patients continue to have difficulties with the platform, often requiring assistance from a family member or a paid caregiver, a recent study has found.

Through a cross-sectional survey of 16 primary care physicians, researchers looked at the experiences of 873 elderly patients with a large home-based primary care (HBPC) programme. The 11-item questionnaire assessed the providers’ perception of their patients’ attitudes, abilities, and barriers regarding telemedicine.

According to the physicians, by the end of June 2020, only 35 percent (n=310) of the elderly patients had had at least one first-time telemedicine visit. Of these, 82 percent required the help of a family member, a caregiver, or both, in order to finish the visit.

The remaining 563 patients (65 percent) were deemed tele-naïve. Of these, 27 percent (n=153) would be unable to interact over video due to reasons such as advanced dementia, cognitive impairment, or blindness/deafness, according to the physicians.

Moreover, half of the tele-naïve patients would need assistance to accomplish the video visits, 28 percent (n=78) of whom had no caregiver present to lend such assistance.

In terms of technological and economic barriers to telehealth, such as sufficient internet connectivity or ability to pay for a cellular plan, physicians were mostly unaware of their patients’ statuses.

“Novel approaches such as providing telehealth-ready devices and the deployment of community health workers to assist with device setup will be necessary to assist many homebound patients who cannot independently navigate telehealth,” the researchers said. “Health systems need to systematically collect information on patient telehealth capacity to help reduce barriers to telehealth use.”

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