Telehealth could be an efficient different for seniors, research exhibits


A large-scale study published last month in the Journal of Telemedicine and Telecare found that telemedicine can be an effective treatment modality for patients over 60, especially when used within the confines of their existing GP.

When researchers, including a team from the West Health Institute focused on the care needs of seniors, analyzed 313,516 telemedicine visits to three health organizations, they found that in the vast majority of cases, virtual encounters were able to successfully resolve urgent and non-urgent needs.

“While the average rate of treatment resolution in telemedicine visits was lower than clinically comparable in-person visits, telemedicine was effective in resolving urgent, non-urgent illnesses a high percentage of the time,” the study said.


The COVID-19 pandemic has shed new light on the potential of telemedicine to complement personal care – especially for people who may face mobility issues when going to a stationary office.

For this study, researchers attempted to examine the effectiveness of telemedicine and its impact on downstream use for people over 60.

They examined more than 300,000 telemedicine visits made from November 2015 to March 2019 at Kaiser Permanente Southern California, Spectrum Health, and Jefferson Health.

The study found that between 84.0% and 86.7% of the time telemedicine index visits resolved urgent, non-urgent needs across the three organizations. Researchers found that telemedicine is most commonly used by seniors for upper respiratory infections, urinary tract infections, and skin conditions, all of which were resolved with one visit in at least 80% of cases.

If follow-up visits were warranted, the number of visits was broadly similar to that of a personal cohort – suggesting that downstream usage is similar.

The researchers indicated that the study was based on the premise that if a patient did not see a doctor within 30 days of the first visit, the condition would be resolved – which may not be the case in all cases.

“Nursing episodes, or the number of visits, are just a single marker of whether clinical quality of care has been provided, as routine follow-up serves two different purposes compared to re-examination,” they wrote.


Downstream use is of interest to many telemedicine researchers because of potential spending concerns.

For example, a recent study found that virtual on-demand care (as opposed to telemedicine visits by patients’ general practitioners) cannot lead to cost savings across the board.

Some stakeholders have stated that congruence is needed to ensure equity, while others say the payment for virtual care should be lower.


“While face-to-face visits have traditionally been the gold standard, our results suggest that telemedicine, when deployed within the confines of a senior’s existing primary care and health care system, is an effective alternative to face-to-face care to meet acute unplanned needs without him to increase downstream recovery, “write researchers.

Kat Jercich is the Editor-in-Chief of Healthcare IT News.
Twitter: @kjercich
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.


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