- More than half of older adults don't know whether their doctor offers telemedicine services, according to a new University of Michigan survey.
- Almost three-quarters of adults aged 50 to 80 surveyed were worried virtual care visits didn't offer an opportunity for a physical exam. Almost 40% expressed concern about not being able to see or hear their doctor correctly during the visit.
- However, interest in telemedicine was high, with nearly two-thirds expressing interest in virtual care options if they became ill while traveling. The researchers, who are also behind the National Poll on Healthy Aging, also found more than half of seniors surveyed were interested in a telehealth follow-up or return visit.
It's the perennial worry with telehealth: trading more attentive care for convenience and cost-effectiveness.
Of the roughly 2,000 older adults surveyed who had experience with telehealth, almost half said it was more convenient than going to see their physician in-person. However, more than half said it was easier to communicate during in-person visits, and that they got more time with their providers that way.
Nealry 60% of respondents viewed in-person office visits as giving them a higher quality of care than telehealth could. Other concerns included privacy, not feeling a personal connection with the healthcare provider and difficulty using the technology.
Interest among older adults waned as the intensity of the healthcare need increased. Only 34% were interested in telehealth visits for a new health problem and less than 30% would use telehealth to take care of a sensitive health issue.
Despite this uncertainty, telehealth could help alleviate issues with disparate healthcare access in the U.S., especially when distance, a lack of providers or transportation issues are barriers to care, or for high-need patients managing chronic conditions who need frequent check-ins.
Of older adults, only 28% would use virtual care for a mental health concern. Yet telehealth for mental health is growing rapidly, especially among rural Medicare beneficiaries and younger Americans.
As the population continues to skew older and more Americans age into Medicare, telehealth could save money across the healthcare space while increasing access to preventive care. It's an issue that's going to come to a head soon. Half of all middle income seniors won't be able to afford the healthcare they need in a decade, according to a study from NORC at the University of Chicago and the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care.
Despite telehealth's upsides and mounting interest among clinicians and patients in the space, adoption remains low due in part to significant regulatory barriers to offering the service. That holds true for seniors as well. Only 4% of older adults in the University of Michigan study reported having a virtual care visit in the previous year.