There is a move in clinical research and medical care to become “virtual” and have the patient see the physician (or investigator) whenever and wherever possible via remote technology, such as TeleHealth. And even though the technology, funding, and providers are almost in full swing, patients over 50 are not.
As reported by the University of Michigan, “Only 4% of those polled by the National Poll on Healthy Aging had had a video-based telehealth visit with a provider via smartphone or computer in the past year.”
The Poll Results
The poll, carried out by the U-M Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation with support from AARP and Michigan Medicine, U-M’s academic medical center, involved a national sample of more than 2,250 adults aged 50 to 80. They answered questions about many aspects of video-based telehealth, which we’ve listed below:
- Among the one-third of poll respondents whose health providers don’t yet offer telehealth, 48% said they’d be interested in trying it with their primary care provider. But fewer would try it for specialty or mental health care.
- More than half said they’d be willing to try telehealth in some situations, for instance if they got sick while traveling or needed follow-up on previous care.
- 64% of respondents said they’d be interested in telehealth options if they became unexpectedly ill while traveling, and 58% said they’d be interested in using it for a return visit after seeing a provider in person for an issue.
- 71% of participants were concerned that providers couldn’t do a physical exam over a webcam or smartphone camera, and 68% worried that the quality of care they’d receive wouldn’t be as good.
- Indeed, among the small minority who had used telehealth, 58% said they felt that office visits offered better quality of care. Nearly half were concerned about privacy.
What Poll Directors and Leaders Have to Say
“As telehealth finally appears poised to live up to its potential, with insurance reimbursement in place or set to begin soon under many plans, and providers increasingly investing in systems, these poll data show a need to focus on the patient side,” says Jacob Kurlander, M.D., M.S., a U-M and VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System gastroenterology specialist and telehealth researcher who helped lead the poll.
“As the industry moves forward, we should heed the concerns and preferences of our patients, especially those over age 50, who use the most health care.”
Preeti Malani, M.D., the poll’s director and a professor of internal medicine at U-M, notes that focusing on certain types of telehealth visits might be a way to help older adults get comfortable with the concept and see its value.
“Telehealth won’t replace in-person medical examinations completely, but for situations where in-person visits aren’t essential, they can save time and resources for patients and providers alike,” she says. “Providers shouldn’t assume older adults aren’t receptive to virtual visits, but they should understand and work to overcome some of the reasons for hesitation.”
Although the current usage rates of virtual visits in both health care and clinical research are low, the potential is high. With a focus on educating patients of both the benefits and coverage of virtual visits, this new resource could become a vital part of our medical field.
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