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How Older Adults Feel About Telemedicine

Research suggests that by 2030 nearly 20% of the population of the United States will be 65 or older. That’s almost double the number from 2012. Older adults tend to require more frequent and intensive health care, with some estimates putting the number of elderly patients with chronic conditions as high as 95%. At the same time, there is a significant and growing provider shortage, a problem that will only be exacerbated by the aging of our population.

Telemedicine has the promise to help make sure that everyone gets the care they need even if growing demand strains the healthcare system. It allows providers to see more patients and removes many of the obstacles that can keep people from seeking the services they need. However, the question remains, will older Americans embrace the approach? The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research conducted a survey to try and find out.

The poll, which covered attitudes on both telemedicine and long-term care, was conducted March 13-April 5 by NORC at the University of Chicago, with funding from the SCAN Foundation. The results are based on online and telephone interviews of 1,845 adults, including 1,522 adults age 40 and over, who are members of NORC’s nationally representative AmeriSpeak panel.

Older Adults are Open to the Idea of Telemedicine

With 88% of respondents indicating that they are comfortable using at least one form of telemedicine, the study found that adults aged 40 or more years were just as likely as those aged 18 to 39 to say they would give telehealth a try. This data backs up previous studies that show a high degree of acceptance for remote access to care.

The authors of a separate study published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine explained, “When we established an emergency department-based telemedicine program, we assumed that many older patients would be skeptical of the new technology and choose not to participate. Our assumption was incorrect. Of the 1052 patients we evaluated in the first several months, 355 (33%) were 60, two were 99. Satisfaction and quality assessment scores among older patients were similar to those for younger patients. Many of these older patients demonstrated flexibility and interest in the novel use of technology. Our emergency department-based telemedicine program resulted in safe and satisfactory care and was readily accepted by our older patients.”

Support for telemedicine is especially high among informal caregivers. The AP survey found that 87% percent of current caregivers aged 18 or more years would be comfortable using at least one form of telemedicine for their older loved one.

Quality of Care and Security are Among the Top Concerns

While support for telemedicine is high among older adults and those who care for them, reasonable concerns remain. Chief among them is the quality of care. Forty-seven percent of those surveyed said they were concerned about receiving low-quality care. The good news is that despite this concern, those who participate in telemedicine have consistently given high satisfaction scores and health outcomes between in-person and remote care have been shown to be equivalent.

Data security and privacy are also top-of-mind for the older patient population. Thirty-nine percent of people surveyed expressed apprehensions about data security, and 31% expressed concerns about privacy. Providers should note these fears and work to educate patients about the technology available to ensure the confidentiality of patient information. Patients want a clear explanation of what data is stored, how the data will be protected, and exactly who will have access.

More research is needed, but studies like this one indicate that age is not a significant barrier to the adoption of telemedicine. That’s welcome news for healthcare providers.