Results from recent research indicate that senior living technology is poised to continue explosive growth. A recent survey shows an 80% increase in spending on telehealth and other technologies since the pandemic began, and two additional studies show that telehealth adoption and satisfaction has increased among older adults since the pandemic began.

Increased Tech Spending

A survey conducted since the pandemic began has found that senior living providers are investing more in technology, even though they may be unclear on how to use it in the future. LeadingAge CAST Supporter Philips and Senior Housing News partnered on this research, with findings shared in The COVID Effect: Technology Adaptation in 2020.
 
Senior Housing News summarized the following findings in "Senior Living Tech Spending Skyrockets Amid Covid-19, With Questions About Future."

Increased Tech Spending:

  • 80% of respondents reported an increase in tech spending this year to help address the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Of respondents, 36% increased spending by 25% to 50%, while 17% of respondents spent double or more on tech this year.
  • 87% expect their organizations to increase their technology budgets in 2021, spending more on items such as virtual activities and engagement (45%), virtual tours (35%), and telehealth and remote resident monitoring (33%). Resident safety or emergency call systems, infection control, sales and marketing, and staffing management were also on the list.

Telehealth:

  • 68% said their company implemented telehealth since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis.

Tech Implementation and Future Plans:

  • 56% said they have a general understanding of technology use around COVID-19 but do not have a concrete plan for the future.
  • Respondents cited some barriers to implementing technology: 34% named Wi-Fi and 30% noted building infrastructure.

 
As revealed at the Collaborative Care Health IT Innovations Summit, which LeadingAge CAST co-sponsored, investments in telehealth are rising. Learn more with CAST’s Summit wrapup article, “Telehealth Investments Rise and Senior Living Rethinks Healthcare.”
 
In the Senior Housing News article, Majd Alwan, CAST executive director and LeadingAge senior vice president of technology and business strategy, said this year has been a “baptism by fire” in using technology, with many senior living providers now seeing the value of robust internet access.
 
“A lot of the providers that were skeptical about the value of internet connectivity now see why it needs to be available,” Alwan told Senior Housing News. Now is a “golden opportunity” to invest in infrastructure to prepare for coming tech needs, he said.
 
What will the future hold? Alwan noted significant interest among providers in implementing telehealth, from biometric remote patient monitoring to virtual visits between residents and their physicians.

The Telehealth Studies

The University of Michigan conducted an online survey of adults aged 50-80, the National Poll on Healthy Aging (NPHA), that followed up a similar survey conducted in May 2019. Telehealth Use Among Older Adults Before and During COVID-19 was sent to over 2,000 older adults.
 
The Digital Doctor: Exploring Perceptions of and Experiences with Virtual Doctor Appointments shared results from a survey of approximately 1,000 people with an average age of 39. It was conducted by CaringAdvisor.com, a website for senior living communities that is owned by the digital marketing agency Digital Strike, based in St. Louis, MO.

Some survey results show that older adults have rising confidence with technology, while other findings indicate that comfort with using video technologies can be a barrier. Many older adults believed they would receive better quality of care at an in-person appointment than in a virtual visit.

Telehealth Adoption

The NPHA found that in 2019, only 4% of respondents had ever had a telehealth visit. In June 2020, 30% of respondents had used telehealth, and 45% said the pandemic increased their interest in telehealth visits.
 
The CaringAdvisor.com study found that people aged 50 and up were most likely to say they were extremely satisfied with their telehealth appointments. Yet this age group also was the least likely to have tried virtual appointments. After COVID-19, 74% of Caringadvisor.com respondents would prefer an in-person appointment for non-emergency care.

Accessibility of Telehealth

Telehealth is more accessible now, with 62% of NPHA respondents saying their healthcare providers offered telehealth visits, compared to 14% in May 2019. Study results indicate that healthcare provider policies may be driving telehealth adoption more than patient preference.
 
Nearly half (46%) of NPHA respondents indicated that their healthcare provider had canceled their in-person visits or rescheduled them to telehealth visits. Fewer than one in six (15%) reported that fear of COVID-19 led them to request or reschedule an in-person appointment as a telehealth visit.
 
Similarly, CaringAdvisor.com respondents aged 50 and up were least likely to have canceled doctor appointments due to the pandemic.

Technological Barriers and Opportunities

The majority of NPHA respondents (91%) found it very easy or somewhat easy to use the technology needed for their telehealth visit. In June 2020, 64% of respondents said that they were comfortable with video conferencing technologies such as FaceTime, Skype, or Google Hangout, up from 53% in May 2019. In June 2020, fewer people reported that they have never used these technologies (17%) than in May 2019 (28%).
 
The CaringAdvisor.com report noted that among respondents of all ages, 71% had difficulty with technology during their appointments, and 67% had challenges with appointment scheduling. The report authors wrote that older adults' reluctance to try telehealth may be linked to technological challenges in connecting for the appointment.

Privacy and Quality of Care

The most common telehealth concerns that NPHA respondents had in June 2020 were that a health care provider cannot conduct a physical exam (75%) and that the quality of the care is not as good as in-person (67%).
 
CaringAdvisor.com found that people aged 50+ were the most likely to say they would trust their doctor less during a virtual appointment and were the most likely to believe they would receive worse care in a virtual appointment than from an in-person appointment.
 
Respondents to both surveys noted being most comfortable doing a telehealth visit with a primary care provider.

Opportunities for Follow-up Visits

NPHA respondents were especially comfortable with the idea of using telehealth for follow-up visits. In June 2020, 72% were interested in a telehealth visit with a provider whom they had previously seen, up from 58% in May 2019. Interest in a one-time follow-up visit after a medical procedure or surgery rose to 63% in June 2020, up from 55% in May 2019.
 
See more findings from the NPHA results and CaringAdvisor.com study.

CAST Telehealth and RPM Online Selection Tool

Are you evaluating telehealth solutions for your organization? Please check out the LeadingAge CAST Telehealth and RPM Online Selection Tool. It includes a white paper, interactive guide, selection tool, product matrix, and case studies that will help you choose the best technology for your needs. 

Telehealth at the Collaborative Care & Health IT Innovations Summit

The Summit featured several sessions that discussed telehealth, including adoption in response to COVID-19 and case studies from the trenches. Sessions also covered increased interest in, and coverage of, telehealth by payers and acute care partners.
 
Missed the Summit? Don’t worry, all the content will be available on-demand on the Virtual Summit’s Platform through Feb. 2021 to all registered attendees, as well as anyone interested in registering to gain access.