The COVID-19 pandemic has radically altered the way individuals access healthcare. Social distancing, as an effective means to minimize transmission of the virus, created new gaps in traditional access to care. And digital health technologies are stepping up to meet this public health challenge. 

While the adoption of digital solutions around the delivery of healthcare had been steadily growing prior to 2020, it is now accelerating as the virus continues its rapid spread. In general, senior adults have lagged in their use of digital health technology. 

The coronavirus threat is reducing the digital divide as this demographic turns to technology platforms to limit their COVID-19 exposure because of their high risk of serious illness and complications. 

Four digital channels are enabling greater and safer access to care for the vulnerable senior population:    

Patient portals

During this time of uncertainty and social distancing, patient portals can help providers and patients stay connected. They can also free up resources and limit in-person visits for needs that can be addressed online. 

As of 2017, over 90% of hospitals were offering patient portal access; however, over half of these hospitals reported less than one-quarter of their patients had registered to use it. Recent data suggests that older adults and their caregivers are more likely to use a patient portal if they are made aware of its existence and how to access it.    

Telehealth

In the face of the COVID-19 threat, access to telehealth has grown exponentially to ensure uninterrupted access to care while minimizing virus exposure and transmission. Before the pandemic, only one in ten Americans had ever used telemedicine services. Since the federal government took steps to expand the use of telemedicine in response to the outbreak, there has been an estimated ten-fold increase in virtual health consultations.   

The ability to provide low-acuity care and monitor and screen for symptoms remotely can keep senior populations safer and healthier. As patients get accustomed to telehealth services, they are more likely to be more accepting of accessing virtual care in the future.  

Online scheduling

The demand to help patients navigate to the care they need and reduce the administrative burden on overwhelmed healthcare organizations is greater than ever. Online scheduling is a digital solution that addresses both challenges. 

While ensuring that senior patients do not delay care is always a priority, this imperative has grown in significance for this vulnerable population. Access to digital scheduling tools helps older patients avoid the frustration of unanswered phone calls and facilitates their access to telehealth services during the pandemic. Online scheduling technology will continue to enhance their care access once the threat subsides.     

Digital reminders

Engaging patients with timely, reliable information during times of uncertainty provides peace-of-mind now and builds trust in healthcare organizations for the future. While the trajectory of COVID-19 remains unpredictable, healthcare providers can support most patients, including those who are considered high-risk, with digital outreach. This type of outreach may include appointment reminders, policy notifications related to COVID-19, alerts to schedule a preventive or follow-up a virtual or in-person appointment, and other custom messaging.     

Many older patients already rely on digital reminders. According to an Accenture survey, 72% of seniors get reminders to do things to maintain their health.

Learn more about how your organization can close the generational gap in patient access by viewing our eBook, “A Digital Engagement Approach to Driving Value-Based Care.”

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