Telehealth Supports Access to Care for Seniors

Sep 12, 2023

Seniors make up a significant portion of the U.S. population, a number that will only grow in the coming years. The U.S. Census Bureau projects there will be more older adults than people under 18 years old by the year 2035. As a result, it is increasingly important to have adaptable care methods in place to best support an aging population. 

Rapidly adopted during the pandemic, telehealth has become an indispensable mode of care for older patients. A majority of patients 65 and older are satisfied with virtual care and would like continued access. Another study from West Health Institute and the University of Virginia found that the advantages of telehealth perceived by respondents are greater than any technological challenges of using virtual care and that “there is an opportunity to create guidance and resources toward the delivery of age-friendly telehealth.” 

There are many benefits to using telehealth programs for senior care, including the opportunity to give seniors the option to age in place, a choice that has proven health benefits, by bringing care to their homes. Virtual meetings with providers and tools like telehealth devices allow patients to better customize their experiences. Remote devices offer features like screen locks so that they are simple and effective to use, allowing more seniors to address their care needs without having to plan for regular trips to the doctor, cutting down on travel planning and expenses. The ability to see a specialist from home can be particularly important for seniors with chronic conditions or immune disorders. One study conducted between November 2020 and March 2022 of 185 blood cancer patients 73 and older found that frailty exams conducted virtually through telehealth were an acceptable substitute for in-person exams and could be beneficial for those with autoimmune disorders in order to reduce the chance of illness. 

“We’ve seen how telehealth can be a vital tool for caring for older adults, particularly those who are homebound, lack transportation, have mobility challenges or live in rural areas where specialists may be non-existent or difficult to access,” said Liane Wardlow, Ph.D., a senior director of Clinical Research and Telehealth at West Health. “The challenges older patients experience with telehealth aren’t insurmountable; they can be addressed by designing remote care in a more intentional way.” With many seniors also living on a fixed budget, telehealth can be an option for lower-cost access to care. One analysis found telehealth expands access to health care without increased costs to taxpayers, with average patients utilizing telehealth seeing a 61 percent decrease in healthcare expenses from January 2020 to February 2021.

To build a stronger health care future for our seniors and protect access to critical care they already rely on, Congress must make telehealth flexibilities first extended during the pandemic permanent.

Learn more about how Congress can act now to safeguard access to telehealth HERE.