The senior population could definitely benefit from improved access to health care that comes from telehealth options, yet this group has not yet embraced telehealth. A poll from the University of Michigan found that seniors still prefer in-person visits with their care providers.
Findings from the University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging, which was taken in May of this year with over 2,200 people between the ages of 50-80, include:
- Only a very small percentage of survey respondents (4%) had used a telehealth visit in the previous year.
- Less than half of the seniors polled compared a telehealth visit favorably to an in-person visit.
- When giving reasons why an in-person visit was preferable, 56% said it was because they felt cared for, 55% said it was because they were better able to communicate with their provider, 53% said it was because more time was spent with them and 58% said an in-person visit provided better quality of care.
- On the availability of telehealth visits, only 14% said their providers offered virtual care visits, 31% said their provider did not offer virtual care visits and 55% said they didn’t know whether their provider offered virtual care at all.
Seniors often encounter more barriers to in-person care than other groups, so it seems natural that telehealth would appeal to this group. Yet, their fear of something new seems to affect their willingness to give telehealth visits a try. Survey respondents cited these concerns:
- A physical exam could not be performed during a telehealth visit, thus reducing the quality of care
- Lack of privacy
- The process would be too technical and confusing.
- They prefer an in-person visit for a new health concern that has not been addressed before or for sensitive health issues or mental health issues.
However, there were a few bright spots found in the survey. While almost half of the respondents rated in-person visits as better than telehealth visits, over one-third (36%) of the respondents rated telehealth visits better and 18% rated both visit types equally. Of the seniors whose providers do not offer virtual visit options, half were willing to try telehealth for primary care, specialist care or mental health care. About two-thirds of the respondents were willing to use telehealth to address an unexpected illness while traveling in order to see their regular provider.
While telehealth visits seem to be a perfect match for the senior population, providers need to address the concerns that seniors have so that virtual care can be used effectively and efficiently.