Survey Finds Many Clinicians Believe Telehealth Is Not Adequate For Treating Elderly Patients

Despite the recent growth and expansion of telehealth, a survey conducted by West Health and members of the Collaborative for Telehealth and Aging found that more than half of clinicians believe it is a poor care option for older populations. This indicates room for improvement, and research surrounding its clinical applicability for various conditions and populations is growing. For instance, a study from October found that telehealth has expanded access, closed health equity gaps, and has considerable potential for future use among mental health patients. However, another study from December revealed that healthcare chief financial officers perceived telehealth as having not enabled rural facilities to improve their financial situation.

Researchers from West Health conducted the online survey to gain insight into the relationship between older populations and telehealth. 7,246 clinicians responded, with 56 percent being independent, licensed practitioners. Geriatric medicine was the most commonly represented specialty, accounting for 22 percent, while primary care accounted for 9.7 percent. The survey revealed that the most common use of telehealth was in hospitals (53 percent), long-term care facilities (47 percent), and outpatient settings (47 percent). When asked about the advantages of telehealth, 55 percent of respondents said that it could help improve healthcare for older adults by enhancing engagement between stakeholders. However, several disadvantages were also indicated, such as people exceeding a certain age not being able to receive effective care through telehealth, and the common physical or cognitive challenges experienced by older adults making telehealth an unrealistic option (57 percent of primary care clinicians, 59 percent of geriatric-only clinicians, and 61 percent of clinicians from other specialties).

The findings of a recent study suggest that telehealth has many benefits for older populations, yet there are still challenges to providing virtual care for these patients. Liane Wardlow, PhD, senior director of clinical research and telehealth at West Health and a lead author of the study, expressed her surprise at the number of professionals who are doubtful of telehealth’s efficacy for seniors with complex medical histories or disabilities. She urged for the development of telehealth infrastructures that can account for these factors, calling attention to the danger of excluding elderly patients from remote care.