Skip to main content

Analysis

Older Americans Wary of Telemedicine

By John Commins  
   October 01, 2019

In a new poll, most adults ages 50-80 expressed concerns about the quality of care that comes with remote provider visits.

Older adults and seniors are not exactly embracing telemedicine, but that doesn't mean they're unwilling to try it, a new survey shows.  

A survey of 2,250 adults aged 50 to 80 conducted by the National Poll on Healthy Aging found that only 4% of respondents had had a video-based telehealth visit with a provider via smartphone or computer in the past year.

Their reviews were mixed.

More than 70% of the respondents voiced concerns that providers couldn't do a physical exam over a webcam or smartphone camera, and 68% suggested that remote care wouldn't be as good. With a small minority who had used telehealth, 58% said office visits offered better care quality, and 48% were concerned about privacy.

Meanwhile, more than half of all those polled didn't know if their health providers offer telehealth visits at all. More than 80% of older adults polled expressed at least one concern about seeing a doctor or other provider virtually rather than in person. And 47% worried about getting the technology to work.

But 64% said they'd be willing to try telehealth in some situations, for instance if they got sick while traveling and 58% said they'd be receptive to telemedicine if they needed follow-up on a previous office visit.

With that in mind, Preeti Malani, MD, the poll's director and a professor of internal medicine at Michigan Medicine, said targeting certain types of telehealth visits could help older adults get comfortable with the idea.

"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," Malani said.

"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," she said.

Of the one-third of the respondents whose providers don't offer telemedicine, 48% said they'd be willing to try it for primary care, but fewer were willing to use it for specialty or mental health services.  

Beginning in 2020, Medicare Advantage health maintenance organizations will reimburse providers for telemedicine. In addition the Veterans Administration has increased access to telemedicine, along with some Medicaid and commercial plans.

Alison Bryant, senior vice president of research for AARP, said the poll findings suggest that providers need to do a better job informing older patients that telemedicine is an option, explaining how it works, and how it could benefit them.

"Many older Americans can benefit from being able to get care through telehealth without long trips to their doctor's office," Bryant said. "Telehealth allows people to schedule health-related appointments, request prescription refills, and link to healthcare providers when time or distance is a barrier. It can also support family caregivers who are taking care of their loved ones."    

“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.”

John Commins is a content specialist and online news editor for HealthLeaders, a Simplify Compliance brand.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

More than 70% of the respondents voiced concerns that providers couldn't do a physical exam over a webcam or smartphone camera.

Another 68% suggested that remote care wouldn't be as good as in-office visits.

Among the 4% of respondents who had used telehealth within the past year, 58% said office visits offered better care quality, and 48% were concerned about privacy.


Get the latest on healthcare leadership in your inbox.