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Older Adults and Telehealth: Do These 3 Things to Improve Your Session


Why Does it Have to Be So Complicated?

Like every age group, senior adults have been surfing the web. They post on social media, and sort through their email. Why then, do so many have problems with telehealth appointments with their health care providers?

Since the pandemic started, we have all become familiar with video calls and group platforms like zoom. Indeed, these video contacts, with all their limitations, have been a lifeline for many. It will never replace being with friends and family in person. But, it is far better to see and hear loved ones from a screen than not at all.

That said, we all know how complicated these video calls have been for the very oldest of our families. Those with caregivers or in a care setting rely on others to set up the calls. In our family, we even connect with that person about 10 minutes or more before every call. We check to make sure that the person helping them to set up for the video call has support. It seems like even after a successful call, there can be problems. There is troubleshooting to connect to audio, the need to reboot or check the modem. We spend a lot of time situating the device so that the older person can see and hear. Earbuds and headsets are great, but can be uncomfortable or disturbing to someone with dementia.

Aim for Success: Pointers from a Health IT Expert

We asked Destiny Westenskow, Senior System Analyst at the University of Utah Medical Center for guidance. Destiny has been hands on since the onset of the pandemic.  She works daily to improve the telehealth experience for patients and health care providers. She deals with the needs of many medical specialties at this highly regarded medical care system.

Destiny assures us, “First, I would say that the struggle with a telehealth experience isn’t specific to older adult patients. Many older adults are savvy and have no trouble. And we have some patients who are not elderly who really struggle.” All telehealth patients are sent an email in advance of their appointment. “The goal is to have all the technical and connection kinks worked out before the appointment time.”

3 Tips to Follow

  1. Decide what device you plan to use. Call the clinic a few days before appointment to ask the best way to connect with your specific device. Destiny explains: “At the University of Utah, we have a recommended way to use a mobile device (tablet or phone) and use the MyChart app. We recommend this because we control the settings for A/V in the app and it’s a consistent experience. The biggest problem we have is patients have a huge range of the equipment and internet browsers and we cannot keep up on every variance.” Not sure exactly how to deal with this? Destiny recommends partnering with the support staff at your clinic. For example, she says “at Madsen Geriatric Clinic, the staff are proactively calling patients ahead of time. But it’s a good idea for patients to take the initiative and call the clinic” if they can.
  2. Good sound quality is critical. “The biggest complaint we hear is problems with sound quality. It’s best if the patient can use corded earphones, not bluetooth if possible.”
    Destiny explains: “Speakers on a device are usually poor and older adults can be hard of hearing. If they use corded earphones they can hear the provider better because the buds are in their ears.”
    “We caution against bluetooth earphones for a couple reasons. First, the connection can be spotty.” And second, a patient may forget or not realize that the device is connected to a pair of bluetooth earbuds. This can cause confusion and delay of care. “This happens a lot.”  Use of corded earphones overrules the bluetooth pairing and eliminates this annoying error.
  3. Support matters. Destiny knows that getting used to telehealth visits can be difficult for many, especially if they are not feeling well or are intimidated by the process. “It is helpful if elderly adults can have someone nearby to help them get connected and be in reach during the visit. Patients can get distracted with the telehealth format or get frustrated with basic device navigation. If they get frustrated before the start of the visit, then it can be difficult to listen to all the information given or they may forget to ask important questions.”

Telehealth has taken some getting used to, for both patients and providers alike. It will never take the place of the in-person medical visit. But, for older adults, it can offer benefits during the pandemic. It keeps a person protected from community spread. It decreases the need for transportation. And, it offers the convenience of a service in your own home. Perhaps technology in the future will make it as easy as making a simple phone call.





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