As we write this entry on the AgingOptions blog, the coronavirus pandemic has forced millions of Americans to stay at home for almost 100 days. That period of self-quarantine has transformed every trip for groceries, every drive to the post office, and every stop at the drugstore into a complicated ritual of gloves, masks and hand sanitizer. It has also transformed your routine visit to the doctor’s office – possibly permanently – into something far different. Welcome to the world of telehealth.
The Benefits of Telehealth Became Apparent Due to COVID-19
In this recent article from Kiplinger, reporter Mark Stein explains what retirees need to know about telehealth (or telemedicine, as it is often called). Stein explains that the rapid spread of the coronavirus sent tens of thousands to the doctor’s office and the emergency room, suffering with high fever, dry cough, extreme tiredness and labored breathing. This overwhelming crush of sick patients meant healthier patients with more routine tests and ailments had to stay away.
“The health care industry needed a solution fast,” says Stein, “and technology provided one. Using video chat services like Zoom and Skype, smartphones or ordinary telephones, patients could still get medical care while practicing social distancing.” Suddenly, an old idea – connecting doctors to patients remotely – took on new urgency. “The coronavirus has elevated the benefits and potential savings of telehealth like nothing before. The ubiquity of smartphones, tablets and other technologies that allow doctors and patients to talk and share medical images in real time at any hour of the day or night has made telehealth a practical alternative to many — but not all — office visits.”
The Benefits of Telehealth: What Is This New Technological Frontier?
As the Kiplinger article explains, the term “telehealth” encompasses a wide range of technological tools, including video conferencing, smartphone apps and other communication tools, through which medical providers “can diagnose, treat and monitor patients without having to be in the same location.” There are at least four different categories of telehealth:
- Live telemedicine lets doctors or other medical professionals talk with patients via video or telephone. This allows a limited range of examinations and tests. It lets doctors diagnose and treat many ailments remotely.
- Store-and-forward telemedicine lets patients record images and other data when it’s convenient for them, and transmit it to a care provider or specialist to be accessed later.
- Remote patient monitoring connects patients to electronic devices that continuously and automatically record health and medical data for later review by a provider.
- Mobile health, or mHealth, is a system that sends out health care information to targeted audiences using mobile devices, such as smartphones or tablets.
The Benefits of Telehealth Aren’t Lost on the Insurance Companies – Even Medicare
The insurance industry seems to like telehealth. “Although many private health insurers have offered telehealth for several years,” Stein writes, “Medicare has lagged behind covering the service. Then, in March 2020, with the virus spreading rapidly, Washington gave telehealth a shot in the arm by bending long-standing Medicare reimbursement rules for physicians and other health care professionals who use technology to remotely examine and treat Medicare patients at home.”
At the same time, big health insurers such as Anthem and United Healthcare have reduced or waived fees for telehealth. “We are making every effort to protect the health of our members by keeping them safe in their homes while still enabling them to get the care they need,” says Dirk McMahon, CEO of UnitedHealthcare, which has been covering telehealth services for employer and individual plans since 2016 and self-insured employers since 2015.
In Spite of the Benefits of Telehealth, Doctors and Patients are Slow to Adopt
Both doctors and patients say they like the idea of telehealth, but they seem slow to get on the bandwagon. “Telehealth has yet to catch on with many older patients,” Stein writes, “who are more likely to visit their doctors in person. A Harris Poll conducted for the telemedicine company American Well found that more than half of 400 Americans over the age of 65 were willing to try telehealth, but only about 1 to 2 percent actually used it.” The preponderance of older adults who have used telehealth only used the technology for what Kiplinger calls “the low-tech task of renewing prescriptions.”
What about medical professionals and telehealth? The picture is similar. In one survey of 800 emergency room doctors, almost 90 percent said they would use telehealth technology, but barely one in ten actually did. Other surveys of medical providers have shown similar results. But some experts predict that generational change will increase telehealth use by both doctors and patients.
The Benefits of Telehealth: Major Savings, Quality Care
According to Kiplinger, there is evidence of telehealth-driven savings for patients with private insurance. “Regence, which operates Blue Cross Blue Shield health insurance plans in the Pacific Northwest, calculated that consumers who opted for telehealth over a traditional office visit saved an average of $100 per visit in 2019,” says the article. Another study estimates that a $100 doctor’s visit for an upper respiratory infection could cost as little as $40 via a video call. That contrasts with $150 at an urgent care center, or $700 or more at a hospital ER.
With all this attention, it would appear that telehealth is here to stay. As the article concludes, “For some doctors, the pandemic has been a wakeup call that modern health care needs revamping. ‘Traditional medicine has let us down,’ said Dr. Joseph Pazona, a urologist in Nashville, Tenn. ‘We need to do radical things to improve.’” Telehealth could be part of the solution.
Two Important Retirement-Planning Announcements from AgingOptions
At AgingOptions our chief desire is to help you prepare for the kind of retirement you’ve always dreamed of having. Toward that end, we want to share two important announcements that are designed to facilitate your LifePlanning process even during this period when most of us are required to avoid gathering in groups.
First, Rajiv Nagaich has scheduled several of his popular, free LifePlanning Seminars in the form of webinars that you can watch conveniently at home. Simply visit our Events Page and register for the webinar of your choice.
Our second announcement: in cooperation with our partners at LifePoint Law, we are excited to launch a ground-breaking new service called the LifePoint Law Emergency Legal Kit. Without leaving your home, you can now consult with a LifePoint Law attorney who will work with you to prepare and sign a complete set of vitally important legal documents including both Financial and Healthcare Powers of Attorney, a Living Will/Advance Directive, a Will or Trust, and much more. Click on the link or call us at AgingOptions and we’ll explain this excellent service to you.
Reliable information has never been more important – and that’s our promise to you at AgingOptions and LifePoint Law. Age on!
(Originally reported at www.kiplinger.com)