IN YOUR PRIME: Telehealth is convenient option for seniors

Doctors, patients tout benefits of medical service.

Even when an in-patient exam would be ideal, Dr. Melissa Butler would rather see her patients via telehealth than not at all.

Before the rising popularity of video appointments, some patients skipped visits because they didn’t have transportation, or perhaps a snowstorm kept them stuck at home. That missed appointment could later lead to a trip to the emergency room, she said.

“Access to care is one of the best ways to keep patients healthy and out of the hospital,” said Butler, medical director of the Kettering Health Years Ahead Health Center.

Access has expanded thanks to telehealth. Before the pandemic, about 15,000 Medicare beneficiaries each week participated in a telehealth visit, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. That number ballooned with COVID-19: More than 24 million Medicare beneficiaries and enrollees had participated in such a visit between March and October 2020.

Prior to the pandemic, many providers didn’t offer telehealth visits, Butler said. Kettering Health quickly found that they were needed.

“I’m glad we had an impetus to get it started,” she said.

Although most of Butler’s appointments are in-person, telehealth visits sometimes make sense.

For appointments in which a physician is touching base with a patient, a telehealth visit is fine. This includes follow-ups to learn how a patient is reacting to a regimen change or a medication, like for blood pressure.

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Telehealth visits are also great for seniors who can’t drive and, of course, they decrease exposure to germs. Telehealth visits jumped with each surge in Covid cases, Butler said.

However, annual physicals should still be done in person, as should the treatment of certain physical symptoms, such as abdominal pain.

Patients prepare for a virtual visit in some of the same ways as an in-person visit, Butler said. Have your medication list handy, or pill bottles to review. Measure any vital signs you can, like weight, temperature and blood oxygen level.

“If they have a smartphone, then they’re good to go,” Butler said. Patients click on a link via text to connect to their appointment.

When using a computer, the patient should know how to turn on both the microphone and camera. Whatever the device, make sure the reception is good.

Telehealth has been an eye-opening experience for both doctors and patients, and they are seeing the benefits, said Ann Spicer, executive vice president of the Ohio Academy of Family Physicians.

In addition to its other advantages, telehealth visits can give doctors visual cues into the environment where their patients are living, similar to home visits. And retirees who winter elsewhere might have a more effective visit via telehealth with their regular physician who knows them and has their records compared to an in-person visit with an unfamiliar doctor out-of-state, she said.

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The standard of care for a virtual appointment should be the same as a traditional in-person visit,

Spicer said, and it is best used as part of an existing doctor-patient relationship.

“It is a very useful tool, but within the context of having a medical home,” Spicer said.

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