How Telemedicine is Transforming Senior Health Care

How Telemedicine is Transforming Senior Health Care  


By Julie Potyraj – Guest Blogger

Polly, age 78, and suffering from obesity-related health issues, is sitting on her sofa on a snowy afternoon. At 3 p.m., it’s time for her wellness appointment. Polly turns on her iPad (supplied by her doctor’s office), and sees her physician’s face smiling back at her. The doctor has already received information on Polly’s blood sugar levels, heart rate, and blood pressure via a remote monitoring system that sends the data directly to his office. After chatting for a bit, Polly shows the doctor a mild rash on her arm. Upon evaluating the condition—made possible by high-definition video conferencing equipment—her physician recommends a round of antibiotics and transmits a prescription to the local pharmacy. Thirty minutes later, the appointment is over, and Polly hasn’t left the warmth and comfort of her home.

This scenario is not from some futuristic film—it’s telemedicine, and it’s gaining momentum in health care settings across the world. Also referred to as telehealth, telemedicine is defined by the industry as “the use of medical information exchanged from one site to another via electronic communications to improve a patient’s clinical health status.” This is more than just a trend; 52 percent of hospitals already use remote technologies to deliver clinical services.[1]

The Impact for Seniors and Health Care as a Whole

For aging adults with mobility and transportation problems, telemedicine can offer a welcome respite from in-person office visits. Frequent doctor’s appointments become less of a strain for seniors as well as their caregivers, who often must take time off work to accompany their loved one.

The early intervention afforded by telehealth also helps prevent unnecessary emergency room visits and hospital readmissions. While this is good news for patients themselves, it also helps ease the burden on America’s health care system by improving efficiency and reducing costs. Consider the following real-world examples:

  • An Illinois-based skilled nursing home chain is using telemedicine to minimize readmissions and eliminate unneeded ER visits, saving the health system hundreds of thousands of dollars annually. Through this program, which involves using video teleconferencing to enable bedside evaluation by board-certified physicians, approximately 81 percent of patients using the technology can be treated on-site.
  • In North Carolina, telemedicine is helping seniors diagnosed with diabetes, COPD, and heart failure remain in their homes and out of the hospital for longer periods. This is accomplished by monitoring these patients remotely in between skilled nursing visits using specialized telehealth technologies.

Medicare is Warming to Telehealth

In 2015, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) delighted telemedicine advocates by adding seven new payment codes covering additional telehealth services, such as annual wellness visits and psychotherapy. However, there is still work to be done. In an effort to help all Medicare recipients enjoy the benefits of telemedicine, organizations such as the American Telemedicine Association continue to actively encourage CMS and Congress to eliminate the arbitrary restrictions that limit coverage.
Would you like to be on the cutting edge of telemedicine and other health care issues? Learn more about MHA@GW, the online master of health administration from the Milken Institute School of Public Health at The George Washington University.


[1] American Hospital Association. The Promise of Telehealth For Hospitals, Health Systems and Their Communities. Trendwatch. January 2015.


Telehealth for Seniors

Skilled Nursing Facility using telehealth

Taking the Longer View

It’s very easy to be on the wrong side of history. When IBM dismissed the personal computer as a passing fad, it lost its chance to be an enduring player in that market. And the same is true for physician organizations that take a short-term view of telemedicine’s transformative power.

Case in point: the Florida Medical Association staunchly opposes the Florida Telemedicine Act, a proposed bill that would allow physicians licensed in other states to treat Florida patients via telemedicine. In fact, the FMA recently conducted a statewide patient survey to try to bolster its position.

More than half of the 600 patients surveyed were “strongly opposed” to letting out-of-state physicians treat them. But it’s highly unlikely that any of those patients have had a life-saving encounter with a remote physician. If you were to survey stroke patients in rural Idaho who have been administered tPA by a physician thousands of miles away, you’d get a much different story.

The FMA is obviously taking the myopic stance that physicians in Boston or Chicago might take business away from Florida doctors – or might deliver inferior care. That’s absurd, of course, and it overlooks telemedicine’s long-range potential.

The FMA’s line-in-the-sand opposition reminds us of the roadblocks faced by early proponents of laparoscopic surgery, which is now a worldwide standard of care. One of the pioneers in that field, Dr. Erich Mühe, was nearly hounded out of the medical profession in the 1980s.

Like Dr. Mühe, telemedicine advocates are on the right side of history, even though they’re facing many obstacles at the moment. Twenty years from now, medical students will scratch their heads and wonder why telemedicine had its critics in 2014. Some breakthroughs – like personal computers, laparoscopic surgery, and telemedicine – are too pivotal and important to resist.

Time To Blitz Your Board

As you might expect, American Telemedicine Association CEO Jon Linkous has many insights on telemedicine’s biggest challenges and its winning strategies. This blog will examine one of the challenges, and next week we’ll look at the unlikely allies who are helping advance the cause of telemedicine.

When we spoke to Jon recently, he felt that poorly informed state medical boards constitute telemedicine’s biggest hurdle at the moment. They’re still basically clueless about many aspects of telemedicine, and that’s why the rules concerning multi-state licensure are still in the Stone Age.

But Linkous rightly maintains that medical board bureaucrats (like all bureaucrats) can eventually change their minds if they get the proper education and persuasion. The key here is consistent, ongoing outreach to medical boards – and we all have a role to play.

Be an advocate for telemedicine at your state’s next medical board public meeting.

Every state medical board (and some states have more than one) hosts a monthly meeting open to the public – with schedules released far in advance. So it’s quite easy for telemedicine advocates to get on the agenda in their respective states. Like Woody Allen once said, “Ninety percent of success is just showing up.”

It’s really that simple. First, find out what your state board’s telemedicine policies are by clicking on this link:

Then use the link below to find the address and meeting schedule for your state board:

Many of the board officials know less about bandwidth than your teenagers, so be patient. You may encounter people who think that if Hippocrates didn’t need telemedicine, neither should we. But don’t forget that many modern legislative miracles – like the Americans with Disabilities Act – were the result of many years of persistent plugging and nonstop education.

We all need to double-down in our efforts to educate state medical boards. This is one battle that can’t be won by giving it a “tele” prefix. You must be present to win.