The Future of Telehealth in Senior Living

CAST | July 20, 2020 | by Donna Childress

Barriers remain, but permanent policy changes may be ahead.

The use of telehealth has increased substantially since the COVID-19 pandemic began, bringing innovative uses. Now, the question is whether this increased use will remain.
Covid-19 Opened the Telehealth Floodgates, But Barriers Remain in Senior Living,” a recent article in Senior Housing News, notes factors that have contributed to the telehealth boom: increased numbers of telehealth users, regulatory changes from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) that reimburse doctors for telehealth appointments from any patient location, and temporary expansion of insurance coverage to include telehealth. 
A Senior Housing News Pulse survey of 22 senior living providers found that telehealth was used most often for routine primary care (more than 75% of respondents), followed by emergent health issues (approximately 45%) and mental or behavioral health (just below 30%).

Innovative Uses of Telehealth

In recent weeks, senior living providers have found creative ways to use telehealth. 

  • Maplewood Senior Living, based in Westport, CT, partnered with Leading CAST Supporter Connected Living to deploy a Temi companion robot to perform telehealth functions in its communities.
  • Through an agreement with a physician to handle some of its telehealth services, such as when residents cannot get a doctor’s visit, Bloom Senior Living, based in Birmingham, MI, is also screening new residents prior to their move-in date.
  • AllyAlign Health in Glen Allen, VA, is building a “teleconnection eco-system” of devices supported by its GracieCare platform. The platform allows AllyAlign’s members to stay connected with medical professionals and family members and during new member enrollment. AllyAlign has developed two teleconnection devices: Gracie is a cart-based model with two touchscreens, and GracieGo is a portable, single-touchscreen device for multi-site or emergency use, according to Senior Housing News

Barriers to Telehealth

While the providers interviewed for the article generally supported telehealth use and hoped for it to continue, the following barriers exist:

  • Past reluctance of CMS to cover telehealth, because its convenience would increase the number of healthcare appointments and raise costs.
  • The complexity of using telehealth, given that residents usually have different doctors and insurance payers and that telehealth often requires specific devices or platforms for each electronic medical record or system.
  • Added time and cost for short-staffed senior living providers in facilitating telehealth visits, with reimbursement going to physicians or clinicians. 

Policy and the Future of Telehealth 

  • It remains to be seen whether policy changes that support telehealth during COVID-19 will continue. Yet two indications look positive.
  •  CMS Administrator Seema Verma has indicated possible support for continuing CMS’s telehealth waivers past the pandemic. (See “Telehealth May be Here to Stay,” from the June 2020 Tech Time.)
  • Senior Housing News reported that Sen. Lamar Alexander, chair of the Senate Committee on Health, Education Labor & Pensions, has expressed support for permanently extending telehealth flexibilities. 

Read the full article.

CAST Telehealth Resources

Technology and Telehealth are part of LeadingAge's 2020 Policy Priorities, and we support the easing of telehealth restrictions to assist with the COVID-19 response. The LeadingAge COVID-19 Telehealth Waiver article has more information about the new telehealth flexibilities.

A Telehealth, Telemedicine & Remote Patient Monitoring QuickCast by CAST Executive Director Majd Alwan, Ph.D., further discusses the new flexibilities to provide telehealth that have arisen from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ready to implement a new telehealth solution? Use the LeadingAge CAST Telehealth and RPM Selection Tool to choose the best technology for your organization’s needs.