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Telemedicine checklist may smooth visits with older patients


During the pandemic, physicians have raced to set up or expand telemedicine, uncovering both advantages and shortcomings. Now experts have developed a checklist of more than a dozen ideas to facilitate effective virtual visits with older adults.

Although many of the suggestions, published online in Annals of Internal Medicine, are useful for all patients, Carrie Nieman, MD, MPH, and Esther S. Oh, MD, PhD, developed the list with older patients in mind.

“I have a number of patients into their 90s and with hearing loss, and we have had very successful video-based telemedicine visits,” Dr. Nieman, with the Cochlear Center for Hearing and Public Health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore said in an interview. “Age should not be considered synonymous with inability or unwillingness to use technology.”

Their recommendations included the following:

  • Assume some degree of hearing loss, which affects about two-thirds of adults aged 70 years and older.
  • Ask patients to wear headphones or a headset or confirm that they are wearing their hearing aids and are in a quiet location.
  • Use a headset.
  • When possible, use video and have the camera focused on your face.
  • Use captioning when available and provide a written summary of key points and instructions.
  • Pay attention to cues, such as nodding along or looking to a loved one, that suggest a patient may not be following the conversation.

“If cognitive impairment is suspected, several screening tools can be used over the telephone to identify individuals who may need more comprehensive, in-person assessment,” wrote Dr. Nieman and Dr. Oh, who is with the division of geriatric medicine and gerontology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. For example, data suggest that a modified version of the Mini–Mental State Examination and the Delirium Symptom Interview could be useful tools. “A formal diagnosis of dementia is not recommended solely based on a telephone-based cognitive screening,” however, Dr. Nieman and Dr. Oh said.

For patients with hearing loss, video visits avoid a current limitation of in-person visits: face masks that hinder patients’ ability to read lips and other visual cues. “For many of us, we rely on these types of cues more than we think,” Dr. Nieman said in an interview.

“When you have doubts about whether you and your patient are on the same page, check in with the patient,” Dr. Nieman said. “When appropriate, having a loved one or a care partner join an encounter, or at least a portion of the encounter, can be helpful to both the patient and the provider.”

Many older patients unprepared

Millions of older patients may not have been ready for the rapid shift to telemedicine brought on by COVID-19, a recent study in JAMA Internal Medicine suggests. Between 32% and 38% of older adults in the United States may not have been ready for video visits, largely because of inexperience with technology. Approximately 20% could have difficulty with telephone visits because of problems hearing or communicating or because of dementia.


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