It can be often difficult and time consuming for older adults to to travel to and from medical appointments, therapies, and other health services. The recent Covid 19 pandemic made these issues even worse.
Luckily, there are readily available and easy-to-use solutions that older adults and their loved ones can use. Taking advantage of, and in many cases combining, home health, telehealth, and telemedicine are three ways older patients can alleviate some of the headache while still maintaining their routine health treatments.
A new approach to healthcare: defining home health, telehealth, and telemedicine
According to Medicare, a federal health program that provides health coverage to adults 65 and older, home health care is a wide range of health care services that can be given at home for an illness or injury.
Examples of home health care services include:
- Wound care for pressure sores or a surgical wound
- Patient and caregiver education
- Intravenous (IV) or nutrition therapy
- Monitoring serious illness and unstable health status
HealthIT.gov, the official website of The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), defines telehealth as the use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support long-distance clinical health care, patient and professional health-related education, public health, and health administration.
Telemedicine refers specifically to remote clinical services. The three main types of telemedicine include:
Realtime interactive services give patients who require medical attention immediate advice. A medical history, review of symptoms, consultation, and assessment similar to those conducted in face-to-face appointments take place over the phone or online.
Store and forward provides the medical practitioner with images and bio-signals for review. This is common in dermatology, radiology, and pathology.
Remote monitoring uses technical devices to monitor patients’ health and clinical signs. This is especially common in monitoring chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and asthma.
It was important for older adults to take advantage of this new approach to healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic because they wouldn’t have to go to doctor’s appointments and sit in waiting rooms and hospitals with people who could potentially have COVID-19.
Many of the same advantages still ensue even when the world is not in a state of pandemic.
How you can help as a caregiver
In some cases, seniors struggle with the concepts of telehealth and telemedicine. In others, they may be too sick to manage their health on their own. As a caregiver, you can help your loved one by:
- Communicating with doctors’ offices and insurance companies
- Helping them get set up in virtual health systems
- Helping them set up telemedicine appointments
- Helping them during telemedicine appointments (making sure there are no problems, taking notes, helping your family member answer the doctor’s questions)
- If the doctor prescribes new medicines or gives refills, you can call the pharmacy and ask them to mail the medicines to your family member’s home. If the medicine is needed immediately, you can go to the pharmacy and pick it up.
Examples of home health, telehealth, and telemedicine
Home health can provide patients with any service they need. John Hopkins Medicine states, “the range of home health care services is limitless.” Home health services may include:
- At-home doctor visits
- Nursing care
- Physical, occupational, and/or speech therapy
- Medical social services
- Care aides
- Homemaker care
- Basic assistance care
- Nutritional support
- Laboratory and x-ray imaging
- Pharmaceutical services
- Home-delivered meals
Home health can take a tremendous burden off elderly adults and their caregivers.
There are a variety of telehealth tools to help patients manage their health care and receive the services they need, including:
- Patient portals. A secure way to communicate private medical information with your doctor and nurse.
- Nursing call centers. Nurses provide advice for care at home.
- Personal health records. Patients’ health records are available to them at any time and can be used for emergencies.
- Personal health apps. Help patients organize their health information.
- Telehealth reduces unnecessary calls to doctors’ offices, provides patients with help when they need it, and enables patients to take control of their health.
Telemedicine can be used in all fields of medicine. In a recent article, Vohra Wound Care Physicians said, “there are no limits to who can use telemedicine.” They, along with many other health care providers, have gotten creative during the COVID-19 epidemic and offered increased access to telemedicine services.
The Trump Administration took steps to make things easier for patients to use telehealth and telemedicine services during the COVID-19 epidemic. They expanded Medicare telehealth coverage that will enable patients to receive a wider range of healthcare services without having to travel to healthcare facilities and temporarily paid health providers to offer telehealth and telemedicine services. This is making it easier for elderly patients and patients with chronic diseases to be aware and take advantage of telehealth and telemedicine services.
A new approach to health care is needed during a time when it’s so important to social distance. Leveraging home health, telehealth, and telemedicine will help decrease the chances of elderly patients and patients with chronic diseases becoming infected. In many cases, family members can help their loved ones take advantage of these services.