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May 31, 2023

UVA Health Partners to Improve Telehealth for Older Adults

Portrait of Laurie Archbald-Pannone, MD

UVA Health experts are helping lead a new national initiative to ensure telehealth care meets the unique needs of older adults.

The new Center of Excellence For Telehealth and Aging is a joint effort among the West Health Institute, the Mid-Atlantic Telehealth Resource Center based at UVA Health and UVA Health’s geriatrics section. A collection of toolkits, guides and research reports is available to help healthcare providers and health systems successfully implement “age-inclusive telehealth that enables older adults to successfully age in place and preserve their quality of life,” according to the center’s website. Experts who are part of the center are also available to answer questions about how to incorporate age-inclusive components into telehealth initiatives around the country.

Telehealth use among older adults spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic, said Laurie Archbald-Pannone, MD, a UVA Health geriatrician who serves as medical director for the center. Before the COVID-19 public health emergency, about 13,000 patients enrolled in Medicare fee-for-service insurance plans received telehealth visits each week; by April 2020, this figure jumped to 1.7 million visits weekly – almost half of all visits by Medicare beneficiaries.

“While telehealth utilization rates have declined below the levels seen early in the pandemic, the two-year trends of telehealth use among Medicare beneficiaries continue to be higher than pre-pandemic levels,” Archbald-Pannone said. “When done well, telehealth can increase access to care, allowing patients to connect directly with their care team to discuss urgent or chronic issues. When not done well, telehealth can increase barriers to care and further limit access, especially in rural communities and communities with vulnerable access to care.”

Age-Inclusive Telehealth

The center has identified three principles vital for age-inclusive telehealth programs:

  • Equitable and accessible: All people should have equal access to the same level of high-quality care regardless of age, ability, socioeconomic status, access to technology or health and technology literacy.
  • Person-centered: Older adults should be at the center of decision-making —accounting for their care preferences, goals, wishes, abilities, support system and health conditions.
  • Integrated and coordinated: Health systems should facilitate access to the information and support necessary to provide quality care to older adults, including cooperation and communication between and within systems and stakeholders.

Preparing for a Telehealth Visit

Archbald-Pannone also has advice for older adults – or any patient – to get the most out of a telehealth visit:

  • Tell your healthcare provider if you need any accommodations, such as a screen reader, closed captioning or a translator.
  • Test your technology ahead of your appointment, including your internet connection, camera and microphone.
  • Review any instructions sent ahead of your visit, which may come via email or through a patient portal such as UVA Health’s MyChart. If you have questions about how to get set up, ask!
  • Find a good location for the visit – somewhere quiet, well-lit and private where you can set up your computer to be around your eye level.
  • Before your visit begins, you may want to restart your computer, make sure it is plugged in and charged and close out any other open programs.

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