10 Tips for a Better Telehealth Appointment

Related topics: Health & Wellness

During the pandemic, many older adults were concerned about the safety of in-person doctor appointments. So seniors—the age group that historically has been last to adopt video calling and similar technologies—warmed up quite a bit to telehealth. They saw their doctors from the comfort and safety of their own home with their computers, phones, tablets or other online devices.

Woman having remote doctor appointment

Studies confirm a rapid increase in the use of telehealth among older adults. A recent poll conducted by the University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation found that in 2019, only 4% of people older than 50 had ever had a telehealth appointment. But during the pandemic, that number rose to 30%, and the percentage continues to rise, along with the comfort level of senior users.

Doctors, too, found that for some types of visits, telehealth was efficient and offered a number of advantages. "This has been an extraordinary time for the telemedicine movement, and these poll results show just how powerful this 'trial by fire' has been," says U-M's Dr. Jeff Kullgren, who uses telehealth with his patients at the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System. "But our data also highlight areas of continued concern for patients that need to be addressed."

Man talking to doctor on smartphone

Telehealth is great for people who have trouble getting to the doctor's office or live in rural areas. But barriers remain. Experts from University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) say that more than a third of older adults face impediments to using telehealth. Some don't have access to, or know how to operate, the equipment. Others have hearing or vision impediments, or difficulty speaking. People with dementia are at a particular disadvantage.

And it's not just a matter of seniors adapting to this new technology. The technology must adapt to older users, as well! "To build an accessible telemedicine system, we need actionable plans and contingencies to overcome the high prevalence of inexperience with technology and disability in the older population," said UCSF study author Dr. Kenneth Lam. "This includes devices with better designed user interfaces to get connected, digital accommodations for hearing and visual impairments, and services to train older adults in the use of devices."

To help older users take advantage of remote doctor visits, the National Institute on Aging recently shared 10 tips for a better telehealth appointment:

  1. Once your online appointment is confirmed, add it to your calendar so you don't forget.
  2. Use the best camera you have, whether it's attached to your phone, laptop, tablet or desktop computer. Clear video and sound can help your doctor understand and address your concerns more easily and effectively.
  3. Test the sound and video on your device. Most devices have built-in microphones and speakers, but you may have to turn them on or enable the telehealth software or website to access them.
  4. Using headphones or earbuds may make it easier for you to hear your doctor and for your doctor to hear you.
  5. Do a test run, practicing beforehand with a family member or friend to be sure that everything is working properly, that you've chosen the best equipment and settings, and that you understand how to use your camera when you have your online visit with your doctor.
  6. Use the best internet connection possible. If you are not using Wi-Fi, try getting the best signal by using a wired connection to your router or an Ethernet cable. If you are using Wi-Fi, being physically close to the internet router and minimizing devices connected to it can help improve your connection.
  7. Charge your device. If you are using a wireless device, like a phone, laptop or tablet, check to make sure your battery is charged enough to last through your appointment. Try charging it the night before your appointment.
  8. Find a quiet space and adjust lighting. Limit distractions and clutter in your space. Find a place with good lighting so your doctor can see you properly.
  9. Position yourself. Place your device on a sturdy surface so you can move around if you need to. Try positioning your device so your head and shoulders are in the camera frame.
  10. Prepare a list of questions/concerns. Just as is true during an in-person appointment, this will make it easier for you and your doctor to cover everything you need to talk about.

These steps can help ensure a satisfactory televisit for older users. Anything that increases access to health care is a good thing! As a side benefit, some older users have also discovered that telehealth is the "gateway app" to teleconferencing with friends and families, as well.

Need a little more motivation? Recent studies show that using online communication to supplement in-person socialization can improve both long-term and short-term memory. Predictions are that for older users, even as the pandemic comes to an end, video conferencing will be here to stay.

Source: IlluminAge Communication Partners with information from the National Institute on Aging, the University of Michigan and University of California San Francisco.

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