Alaina Victoria

Telehealth adoption has experienced remarkable growth in recent years, most notably among seniors. Older adults have found themselves increasingly drawn to virtual care’s convenience. In fact, the majority of seniors surveyed by the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society reported being satisfied with telemedicine and wanting it to continue to be an option for them. Health-related technologies are a lifeline for seniors, fostering improved healthcare outcomes and enhancing their overall quality of life.

Contrary to common misconceptions, many seniors have embraced telehealth with enthusiasm. According to AARP, with over 60 percent of Americans aged 70 and older using smartphones, this age group is increasingly comfortable with technology and appreciates the accessibility it offers. Telehealth has proven valuable for managing chronic conditions, involving providers in patient’s day-to-day activities, and improving adherence to care plans and medical regimens.

Telehealth challenges

Seniors may encounter unique technology challenges when starting with telehealth, but they are eager to learn. Intuitive technology is crucial for simplifying their experience. When surveyed by U.S. News & World Reports on what technology features mattered most to them, participants 55 or older highlighted the importance of healthcare technology that is easy to use and set up. With this in mind, large fonts, clear instructions, and easy navigation are examples of key design considerations. These features proactively overcome potential limitations in vision and varying comfort levels with technology.

The onboarding process in particular plays a significant role in fostering acceptance of telehealth among seniors, with user-friendly enrollment and clear explanations of how the technology works being essential. Involving a helper, like a family member or caregiver, can make a big difference. They can help the patient get online and ensure smooth communication. This boosts the overall experience of telehealth for older adults, making them happier and more satisfied with the care they receive. It also fosters early trust between the patient and their provider – a key to long-term success and engagement.

Remote care’s key to success: real clinicians

The desire for personalized relationships with healthcare professionals continues to be fundamental for geriatric patients, even in an era marked by rapid telehealth growth. While telehealth offers undeniable advantages in terms of convenience and accessibility, it should not fully replace the human touch and expertise of physical therapists. Patients value the rapport and personalized guidance that 1:1 interactions provide, even when they take place remotely.

For many seniors, their healthcare providers have offered them guidance and care over the years, becoming a trusted voice in their healthcare journey. This relationship eases the transition to telehealth, which might initially seem intimidating to some older individuals. This makes the transition to telehealth not just seamless but also reassuring for seniors, who can feel confident that their healthcare provider is still by their side, just in a different format.

By blending telehealth with traditional care delivery via hybrid models, patients benefit from the best of both worlds — the convenience and accessibility of remote monitoring and the expertise and personalized care of their local providers. Telehealth can serve as a valuable extension of in-person care, allowing patients to maintain regular contact with their providers, receive remote guidance, and monitor progress from the comfort of their homes. This approach not only enhances the overall patient experience but also maximizes the potential for successful patient care outcomes — by overcoming barriers to care, delivering proactive interventions, and boosting patient autonomy.

Betty’s story: Shining a light on telehealth’s potential

Betty, a Fox Rehabilitation patient, is a testament to the power of telehealth. After demonstrating improvements with in-person sessions, Betty’s physical therapist transitioned her to a remote monitoring program. Using OneStep’s digital care platform and smartphone motion lab, Betty’s therapist was able to monitor Betty’s functional mobility and gait analysis data remotely. Betty continued with her home exercise program, communicated with her therapist, and performed regular mobility assessments all from the OneStep app.

After consistent positive trends and engagement, Betty’s therapist was notified by the platform of a significant downward trend in Betty’s functional mobility scores and a decline in her gait parameters. This prompted her therapist to call and check in on her, revealing that Betty’s longtime neighbor had recently passed away, and this loss had taken a toll on her. She had stopped eating, going out, and completing her daily walks.

Realizing the urgency of the situation, Betty’s physical therapist quickly scheduled an in-person visit with her to provide her with the resources she needed and get her back on track toward her mobility goals. She began to regain her physical abilities steadily, eventually returning to her baseline level of mobility.

Betty’s story underscores the vital role of ongoing telehealth care for seniors, and its ability to holistically support the patient. Such proactive intervention was made possible by the heightened visibility remote monitoring provides – preventing further physical decline for Betty and potential adverse events, such as a fall, that could have resulted if the decline continued unchecked. This value-based, longitudinal approach to physical therapy is a lifeline for Betty and others like her, ensuring better health outcomes and an improved quality of life.

With 93 percent of US adults planning to age in place, telehealth’s integration into healthcare is only expected to increase. Hybrid approaches, seamlessly blending in-person and telehealth visits, are becoming the new norm. Adding digital touchpoints to traditional care pathways offers convenience, deeper patient-provider relationships, and a revolutionary approach to the delivery of healthcare amongst not only older adults but all age groups.

The future of telehealth holds promising possibilities across the entire healthcare ecosystem, with ongoing innovation paving the way for high-value, personalized care, and superior patient outcomes. As we continue to pair the power of human empathy with technology, we can expect the care experience to improve for patients and providers alike.

Alaina Victoria, PT, DPT, is the marketing and sales enablement manager for OneStep, and a doctor of physical therapy with a passion for digital health technology. Her prior experience includes working within the rehabilitation and orthopedic settings as both a permanent and travel therapist. She is a member of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) including the APTA Academy of Geriatrics Physical Therapy, APTA Frontiers in Rehabilitation, Science and Technology Council, and APTA Health Promotion and Wellness Council.