Now that we’re deep into the COVID-19 pandemic, the biggest conversational opening is often: “How are you holding up at home?” And the answer is often: “I’m going absolutely batty!”
If you’re elderly, the situation can prove worse. Seniors sometimes don’t leave their homes much, and now that they’re concerned about facemasks and social distancing, it’s tempting to simply lock the door and give up communicating with others.
Here’s a second big topic of conversation these days: telehealth. By this time, most people have heard about this trend, but many don’t know much about it. Here’s a brief overview:
WHAT IS TELEHEALTH?
Simply put, it’s the use of modern technology – including laptops, tablets, and cell phones – to deliver health services remotely, usually through video chat apps like Zoom or FaceTime. Services that you can access through telehealth include primary care, remote health assessments, physical therapy, psychotherapy, weight coaching, and often just simple companionship for the elderly, like that provided by home care aides.
WHAT ARE THE PROS?
- Safety. First and foremost, telehealth visits involve no human interaction, so they protect you from the coronavirus.
- Screening. Patients can be screened for COVID-19 from a distance.
- Improved access. Telehealth visits make it easier for the elderly and people with disabilities to get health care.
- Preventive care. Remote connections can be used to provide preventive care, improving the patient’s long-term health.
- Improved care overall. The more people engage in telehealth, the less hospitals and other health care providers feel the strain, so they can improve their treatment of really serious cases.
WHAT ARE THE CONS?
- Less direct care. Clearly, the biggest disadvantage to telehealth is that doctors, nurses, and other health care providers cannot see the patient in person, so they might miss something. For this reason, it’s good to supplement telehealth with occasional direct physical exams.
- Security issues. Security over the Internet has improved a lot in recent years, but there is still the possibility that hackers could access a patient’s medical data.
- Limited access. Elderly people in particular may not have access to modern technology, or they may not be comfortable using it if they do have it.
- Insurance. Not all insurance companies cover telemedicine. At this writing, only about half the states in the U.S. require insurers to do this.
HOW DOES TELEHEALTH RELATE TO HOME CARE?
On the face of it, it would seem that telehealth and home care don’t mix. After all, the main goal of home care is to get physically close to a client to provide comfort and assistance. But two areas in home care lend themselves very well to telehealth: companionship and screening.
- Companionship. This is a very popular service in the home care menu. Many elderly people suffer deeply from loneliness. Most welcome visits from home care aides just to chat for a while. Although telehealth isn’t a perfect replacement for companionship, it can come pretty close.
- Screening. Telehealth allows a nurse of home care aide to screen for many diseases, including COVID-19. This can speed the time it takes to identify a disease and respond appropriately. It also protects the aide, as a physical visit isn’t necessary.
Advanced Home Care Services (AHCS), a major home care agency that serves southern, central, and eastern Massachusetts, launched a pilot program in June, and it has found that telehealth works quite well for these two services. Suellen Alves, Staff Nurse LPN, who pioneered the program, reports that it has brought comfort to both clients and home care aides. It has proven especially valuable for giving clients the reassurance they need to resume home care if they have stopped due to fear of the coronavirus. AHCS CEO Art Kalenjian says that he is unsure whether the agency will continue the program after the pandemic passes, but he is keeping a close eye on state Executive Office of Elder Affairs policies for guidance on that decision.
CAN I AFFORD THIS?
Telehealth rarely costs more than normal health services, and sometimes it can cost less. In addition, you can add in the savings you get from not commuting to a doctor’s office. In addition, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and other federal and state government agencies have implemented a number of measures that make telehealth much more affordable. You can learn more here.
As the great baseball coach Yogi Berra once said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” But in the end, it seems likely that telehealth is here to stay. Just as interactive technology is revolutionizing business, teaching, science, and many other fields, it is changing the face of health care and home care too – and if you haven’t yet, you should learn how it works.