Caitlin Clement|8/10/2023|5 min read

How Can Telehealth Help Address an Aging Population?

Virtual care experts discuss the future of telehealth, hybrid-care and aging-in-place

how can telehealth address and aging population with Dr. Laura Purdy, Dr. Mohit Joshipura and Lanty O'Connor

By 2030, 1 in 5 Baby Boomers are going to be of retirement age, which means an even larger health care need for an already resource depleted healthcare industry. As individuals age, they’re more likely to experience an increase in health problems and, as a result, require more health care. 

With integrated, hybrid-care models becoming more commonplace in healthcare organizations, what role will telehealth play in supporting the health needs of an aging U.S. population? To help answer this question, we talked to three virtual care experts at OpenLoop; Chief Medical Officer, Laura Purdy, MD, VP of Clinical Affairs, Mohit Joshipura, MD and VP of Clinical Operations, Lanty O’Connor

In this article, they’ll identify key areas where telehealth can not only support, but be offered up as a preventative solution to some of the health issues expected in older patient populations. 

Brief evolution of telehealth

The global COVID-19 pandemic really shed light on the systemic shortage and severe lack of health resources, leaving many no choice but to find alternative modes of care. That search led to the rapid adoption of telehealth technology and saw the birth of new digital health companies.

To say the pandemic invented telehealth would be false—but it did set the stage for it. The industry already had the modern technological means to implement a virtual-first care model prior COVID-19. What the pandemic did was put pressure on government actors to finally discuss the policies needed and eventually recognize the convenient and cost-effective nature of virtual care for patients, providers, organizations and payers alike. 

From preventative care to chronic care management, virtual care is going to play an active role in supporting our aging population because of its ability to meet the patients where they are at a lower cost.

Preventative technology is key to supporting an aging population

The best way to limit resource depletion is to spend more time preventing illness rather than reacting to it. According to Dr. Purdy, there are four primary health issues present in older populations that telehealth can help support now and in the coming years. They include:

  • Cardiovascular Diseases

  • Endocrinology/Diabetes

  • Cancer (All Types)

  • Mental Health/Substance Abuse

Systemically, cardiovascular diseases have been the number one killer in almost all populations (except children), but especially in geriatric patients

“When you get to the point where you've had heart attacks, strokes, heart failure and heart rhythm problems, you lose your window of prevention,” said Dr. Purdy. 

Telehealth offers remote tools or remote monitoring devices (RPMs) that collect and asynchronously transfer health data (heart rate, blood pressure and oxygen levels) to their provider via bluetooth or cloud based services. 

That provider now has access to a more complete patient health map and can intervene with medication or treatment changes much earlier, potentially preventing more serious complications. Virtual care technology can also be used as a screening tool, allowing providers to look at a patient's health data prior to the visit. 

In addition to cardiovascular diseases, much of the preventative measures for diabetes and cancers can be facilitated in a primary care setting. “80% of what is done in the office can be done in telehealth, only that remaining 20% need to be in-person,” said Dr. Joshipura, while mentioning telehealth’s versatility. By utilizing telehealth for pre-appointment screenings and health monitoring, PCPs can spot early warning signs. 

Baby Boomer’s understand technology better than previous generations

Voices in the industry like to make the argument that Boomer’s are too technologically challenged to use telehealth—but that’s just not true anymore. “When I first started 10 years ago, the population that was in their sixties and seventies at the time were unfamiliar with technology,” said Dr. Purdy. “The ones that are aging now, thankfully, have the benefit of being more comfortable with technology and understand how to use it.”

The key to greater virtual care adoption among this older population is investing in technology they know instead of forcing them to adopt the latest and greatest AI functionalities. Of these familiar technologies, a simple phone call, or audio-only visits, is the most recognizable. This leads to the next point. 

Increased coverage for audio-only telehealth is needed

While the Baby Boomer’s do have a better grasp on technology than those that aged before them, audio-only coverage is going to be essential to increasing their access to care. There are a few different reasons for this: 

  • Older patients typically live in more rural areas

  • Some patients don’t have access to a smartphone

  • Typically less access to broadband internet

With these in mind, it’s never been more important to invest in audio-only telehealth. 

The recent CONNECT for Health Act of 2023 and Telehealth Expansion Act of 2023, which expand Medicaid coverage and make permanent all the flexibilities first granted in the CARES Act of 2020, is a great start. The most recent (Telehealth Expansion Act) allows health plans and employers to cover telehealth visits for individuals with high-deductible health plans and health savings accounts, providing patients with critical flexibility. 

While we’re headed in the right direction, the act does not specify any audio-only telehealth permissions. In order for payers to fully embrace this mode of care, we’ll need to see more legislative and industry support for it. 

Telehealth enables older patients to age-in-place

According to a U.S News and World Report survey, 93% of respondents agree that aging in place “the ability to live in one's own home and community safely, independently and comfortably, regardless of age, income or ability level,” is an important goal for them.

The use of telehealth can support aging in place in a few ways.

Removes geographical barriers

It’s not uncommon for older patients to live in more rural areas where health facilities can be hard to come by. Additionally, if some find driving difficult due to physical or mental limitations, virtual care negates the need for transportation—instead meeting the patient where they are. 

Decreased hospitalization and re-admittance

Virtual care technology like remote patient monitoring gives providers a more real time look at their patients health. By catching potentially troubling health data early, providers are able to make medication or treatment changes quicker and reduce the need for hospitalization. 

Additionally, for those who have been recently discharged, telehealth offers tools that monitor the patient and allows them to communicate with their medical provider real time. This can help reduce the potential for re-admittance and leaves more beds open. 

Reduced exposure to in-clinic diseases

Typically, older patients tend to be at higher-risk of catching in-clinic diseases due to compromised immune systems. When exposed to facilities, like hospitals, hosting patients with contagious diseases, there is a risk of contracting an illness. 

Telehealth allows patients to stay in their home, where they’ve already been exposed to the environment. This then reduces the risk of contracting an additional disease that could then lead to complications and hospitalization down the road. This practice of hospital-at-home or at-home care was highly effective throughout the pandemic, limiting the amount of community spread but getting geriatric patients the care they needed. 

Access to providers and digital health tools for caregivers

Another population telehealth can help support is caregivers. This can be family members, relatives or individuals who typically don’t have any medical training. While there are nursing or senior living homes available, not all patients can afford or want to be placed in these facilities. 

Caregivers can use telehealth to triage and get medical advice on the condition of the individual under their care without having to transport them to a clinic. 

“Oftentimes [caregivers] aren’t in the medical field or don’t have medical training and you might have situations where you’ll need a consult to figure out ‘does grandma need to go to the hospital?” said O’Connor. “That’s where telehealth comes in, offering a quick consult ot triage visit to say ‘nothing to worry about’ or ‘yes, get them to a hospital.’”

Virtual care reduces unnecessary use of acute care resources

Overall, telehealth and virtual care services can be used to reduce acute care resources in older populations by promoting preventive health practices like monitoring and screenings. Additionally, it removes much of the overhead costs associated with brick and mortar facilities thus increasing its affordability and opening up access to more holistic patient care. 

By utilizing technology like RPMs and audio-only telehealth, we can offer increased access and promote a healthier aging population. Digital health tools like these promote healthier populations and open up beds and resources for those dealing with critical conditions. 

​​As telehealth evolves and continues to increase health equity and access to care, it's up to digital health companies to equip themselves properly to provide quality virtual care and patient experiences to an aging population. 

OpenLoop, a white-label telehealth support company, is in the business of building better patient outcomes. With our private-label EHR platform, our clients are able to customize to meet their patient-flow and branding standards. And our provider staffing service gives our clients access to 30+ specialities. Interested in what we can do for your organization? Get in touch here!

Our full suite of white-labeled Telehealth Support Services include: