Older adults want telehealth, and MA is poised to expand its use

Some 52 percent of Americans older than 65—an estimated 25 million people—are willing to use telehealth, according to a new study by American Well.

“This insight presents a tremendous opportunity for health plans interested in engaging Medicare Advantage members in telehealth—but first they need to understand what is driving senior willingness to use telehealth, what is preventing it and what they should do to promote telehealth adoption among this population,” authors of the study say.

American Well, which powers telehealth solutions for more than 160 health systems and their 55 health plan partners, polled 2,000 adults online to measure their usage and sentiments toward telehealth. Of those surveyed, 20 percent were seniors older than 65.

The study, conducted by The Harris Poll, also found that seniors want to use telehealth for prescription renewals and chronic care management, and they are loyal to their primary care physicians and their health plans.

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According to the study, the primary reasons why seniors prefer telehealth over traditional office visits are because it’s faster, mentioned by 73 percent; saves time and is convenient, 58 percent; and saves money, 54 percent.

The main barrier to use of telehealth named by respondents is the lack of reimbursement mechanisms, and some senior citizens still prefer in-person care over telehealth, the study shows.

Older adults are more likely to use the emergency department for urgent care, and they will delay care, even for serious illness, according to the study. This tendency of senior citizens to use the ER for urgent care offers the opportunity to direct them to more appropriate care settings, including telehealth, American Well says.

Access to affordable, quality healthcare is one of the most critical issues facing the nation today, says Tom Meier, vice president of market solutions at Health Care Service Corporation (HCSC), operating Blue Cross Blue Shield plans in Illinois, Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. “As the focus to improve patient outcomes while reducing costs increases, telehealth has become one of the fastest-growing sectors in healthcare, and its expansion is likely to continue.”

Krista Drobac, executive director for the Alliance for Connected Care, is calling for changes to Medicare reimbursement policies for telehealth. "As patient populations, including seniors, signal interest in and demand for online video visits with their doctors, it's time for Congress to act to give broader access to telehealth in the traditional Medicare program.

“We are pleased that Medicare Advantage plans are now able to include telehealth beginning in January 2020, but all seniors should have the same access to telehealth services," Drobac says.

The scope of the study shows there is a growing opportunity to teach senior citizens about telehealth, says Danielle Russella, president of health plan solutions at American Well. "Supported by a magnitude of compelling forces that in the past have been barriers, issues of access, affordability and awareness are fading. As the data shows, seniors are incredibly willing to embrace technology for their healthcare needs, which often require more personal, higher touch, coordinated care. This is an exciting time, as both seniors and patients at large, increasingly leverage technology to experience healthcare in the home."

Results of the study can be found here.

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