Telemedicine For Seniors In Michigan

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The world is now nearly three years into COVID-19 pandemic, and while the health crisis has hit seniors hard in many ways, one development has emerged from the pandemic that may actually be a significant benefit to seniors in Michigan and across the country: telemedicine. While telemedicine services existed before the pandemic, they became much more prevalent during the health crisis.

People often develop a number of ailments as they age, and may need to be in more regular contact with their healthcare providers. At the same time, those very health conditions or others may make it difficult for older people to get to their doctors’ offices. There are obviously some conditions for which an in-person examination is necessary, but in many cases, a telemedicine appointment yields the necessary care right from the comfort of the senior’s home.

Telehealth v. Telemedicine

Many people use the terms “telehealth” and “telemedicine” interchangeably, but in fact, there is a difference between the two. According to HealthIT.gov, telemedicine refers specifically to remote clinical services like doctor appointments and check-ins with a nurse. Telehealth is a broader term that encompasses telemedicine, but also non-clinical services such as training for providers, continuing medical education, and administrative meetings. In this blog post, we will refer to “telemedicine” when talking about clinical services for seniors and other patients.

Benefits of Telemedicine for Seniors

Perhaps the biggest benefit of telemedicine for seniors is the most obvious one: the ability to receive health care services without needing to leave home. For seniors with mobility issues or difficulty arranging transportation, this option may make them more likely to seek out services when needed.

In addition to easing concerns about mobility, telemedicine visits can also protect seniors from contracting COVID-19 and other contagious diseases. Some doctors’ offices have separate waiting areas for patients who may have a contagious illness, but many do not; that can be a minefield for seniors who are immunocompromised. Working with telemedicine providers eliminates the risk of accidental infection and the serious complications that can result.

The availability of telemedicine visits also makes it more likely that a senior will be able to be seen sooner. And nearly all Medicare programs cover telemedicine visits, so there is no increased cost to seniors in accessing this option. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimate that 43% of American adults aged 65 and up made use of telemedicine in 2021, and that number is only likely to climb as technology improves and tech-savvy adults age.

Any discussion of health care should, of course, include mental health care. Seniors are just as vulnerable to mental health issues like depression and anxiety as anyone else, especially if they are grieving the loss of a spouse. Seniors came of age in a time when seeking mental health care was stigmatized, viewed as weak or shameful. They may be less likely to seek in-person mental health care because of that stigma, but might be more willing to work virtually with a counselor.

Telemedicine benefits not only seniors, but their family members as well. Family members who would have had to take time off work in the past to transport a parent to the doctor no longer need to do so when the medical visit is conducted remotely. And for seniors whose family members live in another state, some telemedicine technology allows family members to participate in the visit via video link.

Is Telemedicine Right for Your Older Family Member?

There are both pros and cons of telemedicine, of course. Some of the challenges include the fact that many seniors are uncomfortable with newer technology, including computers and telemedicine apps. In addition, advancing age often brings with it diminished hearing and vision, making it harder for even some tech-savvy seniors to communicate effectively with their doctor through a screen. And, of course, many seniors have Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, which may make using telemedicine apps frustrating, if not impossible.

In addition, seniors seeking mental health services through telemedicine may have difficulty finding the care they need due to licensing issues. While telemedicine apps make it technically possible to work with a therapist anywhere in the country, licensing constraints may prevent a counselor from working with a patient outside of the state in which they are licensed.

Current Michigan law requires that all healthcare providers (not just mental health providers) be licensed in Michigan if they want to provide services to patients in the state. There are some limited exceptions to this rule. However, as telemedicine technology and licensing law evolves, the Michigan legislature may revisit this restriction in the future. We’ll just have to wait and see.

To learn more about whether telemedicine services can benefit you or an elderly loved one, or if you have questions about health and elder law, please contact Estate Planning and Elder Law Services to schedule a consultation.

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