The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has stated that older adults, 65 years and older, and people of any age who have serious medical conditions are at higher risk for severe illness from coronavirus or COVID-19.
As it’s become well known that slowing down the spread of COVID-19 involves taking droplet precautions, the dilemma of how to take care of older adults, many of whom need routine health treatments and doctors’ appointments, presents itself.
Luckily, there are readily available and easy-to-use solutions that older adults and their loved ones can use during these troubling times. Taking advantage of, and in many cases combining, home health, telehealth, and telemedicine are three ways older patients can reduce their chances of contracting COVID-19 while still maintaining their routine health treatments.
A new approach to healthcare: defining home health, telehealth, and telemedicine
Home health. 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
Telehealth. 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.
- 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’s important for elderly patients to use this new approach to healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic because they won’t have to go to doctor’s appointments and sit in waiting rooms and hospitals with people who could potentially have COVID-19. Essentially, they will be taking many of the steps the CDC recommends to prevent getting sick and still receive quality healthcare.
How you can help your elderly family member
In some cases, elderly patients struggle with the concepts of telehealth and telemedicine. In others, patients may be too sick to manage their health on their own. You can help your elderly or chronically sick family member 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
- 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, especially during the COVID-19 epidemic.
- 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 has taken steps to make things easier for patients to use telehealth and telemedicine services during the COVID-19 epidemic. They’ve 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. A team approach is needed to stop at-risk individuals from getting infected.
For additional information, read the TechForAging article on Digital Health.