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Journal of the American Geriatrics Society
 Research Summary

Today the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society published a study about older adults’ views on receiving their primary care through telemedicine. Researchers asked adults over the age of 65 what they thought about the telemedicine care they received during the COVID-19 pandemic. The researchers wanted to understand if telemedicine should remain an option for patients on a permanent basis.

Why does this matter?

We all want to have access to good quality care that helps us stay healthy as we age. Policy makers are making big decisions about what kind of care older adults should receive and whether insurance will cover it. A current law, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, allows telemedicine to be covered by insurance. However, it will expire on October 13, 2022. Researchers wanted to find out if people were happy with receiving primary care through telemedicine. They also identified barriers that make receiving care through telemedicine difficult for some people, so changes can be made to improve the patient experience.

What Was Learned from thisStudy?

Most adults over the age of 65 who participated in the study reported being satisfied with the primary care telemedicine they received during the pandemic. Participating older adults also expressed their hopes that telemedicine would remain available as an option, even as social distance orders begin to lift. Study participants reported that telemedicine was easier:

  • In bad weather.
  • During pandemics.
  • When they weren’t feeling well.
  • When they had mobility issues.

They also liked that it was easy to include family and caregivers during telemedicine visits.

Even though older adults clearly appreciate the benefits of telemedicine, most respondents still preferred in-person care because:

  • They want to have a physical examination.
  • It is easier to have a good relationship with their healthcare provider.
  • They had technical difficulties using video.

How Researchers Conducted this Study

The study participants included 208 adults over the age of 65 who had completed a phone-only and/or video telemedicine primary care visit with their primary care provider (PCP) since March 2020. The survey took place by phone and through an online questionnaire with multiple choice and open-ended questions.

Researchers asked participants to compare telemedicine to in-person visits and to rate their experience on a scale from 1-7. Open-ended questions gave participants an opportunity to share more detailed thoughts on their preference and what might improve telemedicine.

What are the Study’s Limitations?

The researchers concluded that having a choice between telemedicine and in-person care was preferred by the study participants. However, the findings were limited to one health system in Massachusetts and included mostly non-Hispanic white, highly educated participants. These people may be more likely to choose telemedicine than people from other backgrounds. Some participants reported that telemedicine was their only option, so they were not given a choice.

What this Study Means for You

The researchers found that adults over 65 want to continue to have a choice of seeing their PCP in person or through a telemedicine visit. Their findings will support efforts to have insurance companies cover telemedicine for older adults after the October deadline.

This summary is from “Older Adults’ Perspectives on Primary Care Telemedicine during the COVID-19 Pandemic.” It appears online ahead of print in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. The study’s authors are Roma Bhatia, MD, MPH; Elizabeth Gilliam, MA; Gianna Aliberti, MD; Adlin Pinheiro, MS; Maria Karamourtopoulos, BA; Roger B. Davis, ScD; Laura DesRochers, MD, MPH; and Mara A. Schonberg, MD, MPH.

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