By Linda Childers
Healthcare for today’s Baby Boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, is rapidly changing, thanks in part to the fast-growing field of telehealth.
Devices that monitor chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease, videoconferencing with physicians, and other telemedicine technologies are already being used to care for seniors and will continue to grow as Baby Boomers continue to reach traditional retirement age.
And experts say this is just the beginning.
Currently more than half of all U.S. hospitals use some form of telehealth, says Jonathan Linkous, CEO of the American Telemedicine Association in Washington D.C. A study released in January, 2015 by iData research predicted that the telehealth market could grow by $5 billion in the next five years.
Linkous notes that telemedicine technology can take many forms. For example, Telestroke programs have been shown to improve mortality rates for patients who are seen at rural hospitals that might not have a neurologist on call.
“In stroke care, time is of the essence, and these programs have been shown to improve access to lifesaving stroke care,” Linkous says. “Using two-way video cameras over a secure Internet connection, the technology allows neurologists to perform comprehensive evaluations with emergency room physicians via teleconference.”
After assessing the patient, and determining they suffered an acute stroke, neurologists can then administer the clot-dissolving drug tissue Plasminogen Activator (tPA). When administered within three hours of the onset of stroke conditions, tPA has been found to deliver dramatically improve outcomes.
An Alternative to Nursing Homes
With more Baby Boomers wanting to live in their own homes for as long as possible, telehealth technology is also changing the way the healthcare profession looks at long term care.
Lifetime Care, a home health agency in Rochester, New York, uses Honeywell’s HomMed Health Monitoring System to guide patients on how to take their vital signs such as blood pressure, heart rate, oxygen saturation and temperature.
The New Jersey-based Honeywell says their system also asks a set of pre-determined questions to assess the patient’s health for the day, and then transmits the results to a nurse at a central monitoring station who reviews the data. Any deviations from acceptable vital signs are immediately addressed and often followed by a visit from a home health nurse. Lifetime Care says their telehealth system has resulted in increased patient independence, fewer emergency room visits and hospitalizations and increased satisfaction among patients.
“Seniors are avid users of technology,” Linkous says, and a 2014 Pew study agrees showing that 3 out of 4 adults over 65 own a cell phone, while about 3 out of 5 have Internet access. “If they can have an consultation with their physician using a computer or smartphone, rather than driving across town and sitting in a waiting room, most will choose the telehealth option.”
Another innovation designed to keep seniors safe and comfortable in their homes is the AFrame MobileCare Monitor system, a wristwatch-based monitor that detects fall-related impacts and continuously gathers activity-related data and determines the user’s location, acting as both a fall detection and safety system.
Not only are patients and healthcare providers seeing the benefits of telemedicine services, Linkous notes that many private insurers, as well as Medicaid and Medicare, are realizing the potential of telehealth.
“Medicare covers telehealth in certain circumstances while almost every state Medicaid plan specifically covers at least some telehealth services,” Linkous says. “In addition, 22 states and the District of Columbia require that private insurers cover telehealth the same as they cover in-person services.”