CAN CEO John Schall: Op-Ed on Telehealth

AN CEO Op-Ed Senior Using Telehealth for Consultation

CAREGIVERS PLAY A VITAL ROLE IN VIRTUAL (AND IN-PERSON) CARE

NOVEMBER 24, 2021

By John Schall

For many Americans, medical care over the past 18 months has been easier than ever: Patients use their phone or computer to log into a telehealth portal, where they see and talk with a doctor to get needed care. But it isn’t always so simple or straightforward. One of the most critical drawbacks is that not everyone has access to internet fast enough to support video visits. And audio-only visits are hampered by limitations on the type of assessment a doctor can perform without being able to see or touch a patient. There is also the comfort factor. Many patients – 79% in a recent Harris poll – express that they like the convenience of telehealth, with the caveat that they do not want virtual visits do not replace in-person care.

Many patients prefer in-person care to foster the patient-doctor relationship. This helps doctors fully understand the patient’s situation. Accurate screening, diagnosis, and treatment are facilitated. In fact, 62% of Harris poll respondents agree in-person visits are necessary.

The Risks of Telehealth for Caregivers and Patient Care

Telehealth, unfortunately, can also cut out caregivers, further risking quality patient care in the process. Caregivers often facilitate communication between health care providers and patients. And they help carryout treatment plans between visits, so their presence to receive those instruction and ask questions, if necessary, is vital.

Some telehealth platforms allow more than two participants. Others permit only the doctor and the patient to join. If a caregiver isn’t with the patient, they miss the appointment. This situation was common during the pandemic.

In contrast, many patients are well suited to telehealth. Those who can self-report accurately and completely, for example. And many follow-up care situations are appropriate for telehealth. Still, 78% of Harris poll participants agree that something might be missed if they do not have an in-person appointment. This concern is almost certainly higher among subgroups. In these subgroups, caregivers comprise a critical part of the health care team. Their presence is essential for ensuring nothing is overlooked.

Still, 78% of Harris poll participants agree that something might be missed if they do not have an in-person appointment. This concern is almost certainly higher among subgroups. In these subgroups, caregivers comprise a critical part of the health care team. Their presence is essential for ensuring nothing is overlooked.

Preserving In-Person Visits for Caregivers and Quality Patient Care

Periodic in-office visits serve as a safety net supporting quality care. When a symptom is missed during a telehealth visit, detection and diagnosis may be delayed. On an individual patient level, this is a terrible misfortune and mistake that can lead to worse health outcomes. Preserving in-person visits is critical for patients relying on caregivers. Policymakers should affirm caregivers’ importance through policies enabling their full participation. Delayed diagnoses and deferred care can increase healthcare costs. Future cuts may affect the quality of care for all.

For patients needing caregiver support, maintaining the option for in-person visits is critical. As we observe National Family Caregiver Month in November, let’s pause to recognize how important caregivers are. They are vital to the health and well-being of those they support. Preserving in-person visits is critical for patients relying on caregivers. Policymakers should affirm caregivers’ importance through policies enabling their full participation.

 

John Schall is CEO of Caregiver Action Network.

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