Skyping the doctor? Poll shows it’s not just for the young

WASHINGTON—Every morning, 92-year-old Sidney Kramer wraps a blood- pressure cuff around his arm and steps on a scale, and readings of his heart health beam to a team of nurses—and to his daughter’s smartphone—miles from his Maryland home.

Red flags? A nurse immediately calls, a form of telemedicine helping Kramer live independently by keeping his congestive heart failure under tight control.

“It’s reassuring both psychologically and physically. The way he’s put it to me, it’s like having a doctor appointment every morning,” said Miriam Dubin, Kramer’s daughter.

The vast majority of older Americans and their caregivers are ready to give virtual health care a try: Nearly nine in 10 adults ages 40 and over would be comfortable using at least one type of telemedicine for themselves or an aging loved one, said a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. But they want to make sure an e-visit or other remote care is just as good as they’d get in person, and that their health information stays private, according to the survey released on Thursday.

Long considered an option mainly for improving access to health care in rural areas with few doctors, telemedicine is gaining ground with tech-savvy younger consumers— they text their physician with questions or Skype with a mild complaint. For seniors with chronic illnesses or mobility problems that make simply reaching a doctor’s office an ordeal, telehealth could be more than a convenience.

The graying population is raising serious questions about how the nation will provide enough quality long-term care.

But while private insurance increasingly covers certain services, such as a video visit, seniors have had a harder time because Medicare tightly restricts what it will pay for.

That’s starting to change, with a law Congress passed last winter that expands Medicare coverage for such options as video visits to diagnose stroke symptoms or check on home dialysis patients. Also, Medicare Advantage programs used by a third of beneficiaries can start offering additional telehealth options.



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