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Virtual Medical Visits Get Wary Welcome From Older Adults

Virtual Medical Visits Get Wary Welcome From Older Adults

A national poll suggests that people over 50 aren’t quite ready to fully embrace virtual health visits—also known as telehealth.

Only 4 percent of those polled by the National Poll on Healthy Aging had had a video-based telehealth visit with a provider via smartphone or computer in the past year.

Meanwhile, more than half of all those polled didn’t know if their health providers offer telehealth visits. More than 80 percent of older adults polled expressed at least one concern about seeing a doctor or other provider virtually rather than in person. And 47 percent worried about getting the technology to work.

But more than half said they’d be willing to try telehealth in some situations, for instance if they got sick while traveling or needed follow-up on previous care.

The poll, carried out by the University of Michigan (U-M) Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation with support from AARP and Michigan Medicine, involved more than 2,250 adults age 50 to 80.

Among the one-third of poll respondents whose health providers don’t yet offer telehealth, 48 percent said they’d be interested in trying it with their primary care provider. But fewer would try it for specialty or mental health care.

Also, 71 percent were concerned that providers couldn’t do a physical exam over a webcam or smartphone camera, and 68 percent worried the quality of care they would receive wouldn’t be as good. Indeed, among the small minority who had used telehealth, 58 percent said they felt that office visits offered better quality of care. Nearly half were concerned about privacy.

Providers that have begun to offer telehealth options may need to do a better job of letting their older patients know it’s an option and helping them understand how it works, the poll suggests.

“Many older Americans can benefit from being able to get care through telehealth without long trips to their doctor’s office,” said Alison Bryant, PhD, senior vice president of research for AARP. “Telehealth allows people to schedule health-related appointments, request prescription refills, and link to healthcare providers when time or distance is a barrier.”

This article was adapted from information provided by Michigan Medicine – U-M.

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