The coronavirus has catalyzed the need for telemedicine, particularly for older adults.
While telehealth may be booming in the healthcare industry, seniors have been slow to adopt this initiative. Whether you are a parent of an older adult or a caregiver for the elderly, you can help seniors overcome this barrier by teaching them how to navigate technology for their virtual visit.
Here is a step-by-step guide on how to help your seniors best prepare and get the most out of their telehealth appointment.
Prepare the device before the appointment
Firstly, start by helping them set up a device to use for the telehealth appointment. A phone or tablet may be a perfect fit since they display video and can be moved around easily to better display issues, such as a rash or stye.
- Teach them how to connect a headset or adjust audio
- Make sure that they know how to charge their device and test it for reliable internet connection before the visit
- Tell them about common technical difficulties that may occur, such as losing the WiFi connection, and how to troubleshoot it
- On the device, help them set up bookmarks and apps so they can readily access the sites and programs they use, including the one from their healthcare provider’s office
- Explain the instructions given by their provider’s office on how to enter the virtual meeting at the scheduled time
- Write instructions in a step-by-step list that your senior can conveniently turn to when faced with any tech issues
It may be helpful to have them review these instructions prior to each appointment, for extra peace of mind. Moreover, if their healthcare provider has instructions on how to proceed if the technology is not working during the appointment, make sure that they understand it and will engage in the necessary actions.
In addition, it may be beneficial to demonstrate this process yourself a couple of times and then observe them doing it on their own. It may take a while to get this process smooth-sailing, but practice makes perfect!
Find the best setting for the virtual consult
In order for the healthcare provider to best hear and see the patient, the patient needs to be in an appropriate spot. Work with your senior to find a quiet spot in their home and designate it for the appointment. Make sure that the place is not only quiet but also has good lighting. Areas near windows or doors with background noise are probably not the best fit as they can cause distractions. Once a quiet spot has been established, it may be helpful to set up a chair if there is not one already.
It is also important to avoid any distractions that may arise during the appointment. Remind the senior to turn off the television, radio, or Alexa before entering the virtual visit. It’s also helpful to silence phones, alarms, and perhaps any kitchen gadgets that might go off at the consultation. While some events may be unexpected, it is generally best to manage things that can be controlled.
Formulate a list of questions to ask the professional
It can be easy to forget questions and concerns during telehealth appointments. Help your senior prepare a list of questions beforehand to ask their healthcare professional. Remind them to have a notebook and pen handy to write responses from their provider, including instructions on how to move forward.
For most appointments, providers will check on the prescription medications your senior is taking. If there is a medication that is close to needing a refill, tell them to inform their provider during the visit. It may be helpful to encourage your senior to showcase the medicine over camera, especially over-the-counter ones so the provider understands what brands and type of medication they are using.
This is also a good opportunity for your senior to bring up any concerns and/or inquiries they may have regarding navigating the coronavirus pandemic. For instance, if they would like to minimize their trips to the pharmacy due to being at high risk of contracting the virus, they can ask their provider about getting an extra supply of their prescription medicines.
In addition to physical health, it may be beneficial for your senior to address their emotional health as they may experience risk factors that exacerbate social isolation or loneliness, such as living alone and the loss of family and friends. Emotional health is tied to physical health, so support them in discussing how they feel with their provider.
Take notes during the online visit
Unlike in-person appointments where patients are given a write-up of the wellness checkup or an updated copy of their medical records immediately afterwards, patients have to take the majority of their notes during their telehealth consult. Help your senior take comprehensive, detailed notes during the appointment while actively listening to their healthcare provider. Have them write down the most important remarks from their provider instead of every little detail.
It may be helpful to demonstrate this process and practice it with them a few times before the scheduled appointment. Your senior could also call you after the consultation to discuss their healthcare provider’s recommendations and updates to their health.
Understand what to do afterwards and how to follow up
Tell your senior to recap key information of their care plan with their healthcare provider at the end of their visit. This includes—but is not limited to—changes in treatment, lab tests, and prescription medication refills the senior may need. Remind your senior to request a transcript of the online meeting to read afterward, or show them how to check their patient portal for the provider's appointment notes and additional information. If a transcript or portal aren't available, your senior could request a secure email from their provider that summarizes the evaluation and provides further steps for managing their health. Oftentimes, staff in the provider’s office will send updated medical records or lab results via post mail or email shortly after the consultation.
Sometimes, the provider may request that the senior comes into the clinic for a follow-up appointment to conduct further examination. If this is the case, make sure your senior understands how to safely enter the clinic following COVID-19 safety precautions. Unless indicated otherwise, tell your senior to wear a mask, practice social distancing, and wash their hands upon arrival and again at departure to minimize coronavirus exposure at the provider’s office. Remind them to bring the notes they took at their previous telehealth consultation to their in-person appointment.
What to expect during the ongoing pandemic and beyond
According to the AARP (American Association of Retired Persons), online physician visits skyrocketed by 300 percent among Medicare-eligible seniors since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The best part? Nearly half of them are comfortable using telemedicine in the future.
This signals that telehealth consultations will be here to stay once the coronavirus outbreak subsides.