Virtual care technology can ultimately help improve outcomes in your senior patient population.
We know that relationship building is critical to improving patient outcomes, and one of the biggest factors in relationship building is strong communication. According to the National Institute on Aging, effective communication can result in not only more efficient and effective care, but also greater patient satisfaction with their treatment, and this is particularly true when it comes to elderly and aging patients.
While the manner with which physicians communicate with their parents is incredibly important for better outcomes, the means by which they do so also has a big impact on their care. One of the primary ways that provider-patient communication has evolved in recent years – and particularly this year as a result of COVID-19 – is through the rise of technology-driven communications, specifically virtual care and telehealth.
Many may argue that virtual care and telehealth will never fully replace in-person care for seniors, and research shows that is likely true, even after increased adoption as a result of the pandemic. According to a June 2020 survey of adults ages 50-80 by the University of Michigan, over 50 percent of respondents still perceive office visits as providing a higher overall quality of care, and barriers to adoption and accessibility of technology still remain for many seniors. Even if it doesn’t become the primary source of healthcare for seniors in the immediate future, telehealth and outreach through innovative voice automations, and through engagement with care teams between office visits, are providing an opportunity to improve patient communications to meet the needs of this rapidly growing patient population regardless of current care disruptions.
One of the more obvious ways that technology can improve patient communication is by simply making it more accessible. Physicians can only meet in-person with so many patients each day, and on top of that challenge, many seniors face transportation challenges even getting to in-office appointments. Telemedicine in the form of traditional, video-enabled, primary care doctor’s visits certainly alleviates many of those challenges – but it also makes it easier for patients to connect with physicians or support staff in between regular, routine appointments. According to the same University of Michigan poll, 72% of respondents expressed interest in using telehealth for follow-up questions with a doctor they had already seen. Offering telemedicine as an optional and supplemental method of communication between you and your patients helps reduce unnecessary appointments, improve practice efficiency, and open more channels of communication and touchpoints throughout the care journey.
Another benefit of virtual communication is its ability to drive better care-plan adoption among patients. For example, one study looked at patients’ understanding of newly-prescribed medications post-hospital discharge and found that while 86% of patients were aware that they’d been prescribed new medications, only 64% could identify the name of the medication and merely 11% could recall being told of potential adverse effects. One of the ways that digital communication can better ensure patient adherence is through increased follow ups—whether by physicians and support staff personally checking on a patient’s status, or by distributing automated call or text messages about medication reminders or lifestyle changes. Increased engagement can also enable providers and patients to bring more stakeholders into the conversation, including family members or caretakers, by enlisting their support in the senior’s care plan adoption.
Perhaps one of the most significant advantages to virtual care is the real-time lens that it provides into a patient’s home life and the social determinants that might be at play. Whether it is the clutter that may increase a patient’s likelihood of falling or the isolation that may negatively impact their mental health, the information you can gather by connecting with a patient in their home environment can have an important impact on their care plan adherence and overall health outcomes. In addition, and perhaps most importantly, these real-time insights enable providers to intervene more quickly and collaborate with other members of the patient’s care team to develop solutions before deterioration, or even hospitalization, occurs. With close to 75% of Medicare hospital readmissions being identified as preventable, the real-time insights gained from various aspects of virtual care can play an important role in necessary proactive care management.
Many aspects of virtual care can lead patients to feel more involved in their care and in control of their healthcare journeys. By empowering patients to decide where, when, and how they prefer to engage with their care team, patients are more likely to have a satisfying care experience, which in turn helps to improve care outcomes. Best of all, increased payor reimbursement and revenue sources for telehealth means that practices no longer have to go out on a limb to reap the many benefits of virtual patient communications—a win-win for all stakeholders involved.
David Hunt is the Founder and Chief Marketing & Development Officer at Cosán Group, an industry-leading healthcare organization creating new pathways to modern aging with technology-driven preventative care services.