Monday, July 30, 2018

Proposed changes in tele-health services could help rural seniors get help when they need it, and more of it

Falls are a big risk for seniors, possibly leading to hospital stays, surgeries and rehabilitation. They are even more risky for rural seniors, who may be far away from help, or family who might check in on them. But proposed changes to rural broadband and tele-health could help seniors deal with falls better, allowing them to stay in their homes longer, Craig Settles writes for The Daily Yonder.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recently proposed to pay doctors more for tele-health appointments, which would make such services more readily available to rural seniors who need them for general medical services, mental health services, and home health care.

Tele-health can significantly reduce the amount of mental-health medication that seniors need, says Nancy Hamilton, executive director of Hearthstone senior living buildings in Pella, Iowa: "In 2015 our anti-psychotropic medications use was at 15.5 percent and now it’s at 6.8 percent even though our acuity of patients with behaviors has increased. Encounter Telehealth [a vendor] brings constant touch points with psychiatric professionals that we need."

Also, tele-health services help hospitals better monitor recently discharged seniors to ensure they don't need to be readmitted for complications. Readmission within 30 days of discharge carries financial penalties for hospitals.

All that said, improved tele-health hinges on seniors having access to good, affordable internet service. Low-income seniors are likely to have a smartphone but not likely to have wi-fi at home without a data cap, according to Angela Siefer, director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance. To that end, the Federal Communications Commission announced recently that it might commit $100 million for telehealth from the Universal Service Fund.

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