Mass General Brigham's Dr. Joe Kvedar explains why seniors are ripe for telehealth

Dr. Kvedar will be on a panel at Accelerate Health next week discussing the future of telemedicine.
By Laura Lovett
01:37 pm
Mass General Brigham's Dr. Joe Kvedar

This year, most of the healthcare focus has been centered on the coronavirus crisis. However, as the population continues to age, over the next few decades senior care may be the hot topic.

“It’s critical that we get it right for so many reasons,” Dr. Joe Kvedar, senior advisor of virtual care at Mass General Brigham, said. “In 2050 there will be twice as many people on the planet over 65 as there will be under 5, and it just keeps getting more and more dramatic, because, luckily, we are living longer. But as we live longer, we need more healthcare services.”

Digital tools are one way to help seniors access care in their own homes. In fact, Kvedar is slated to speak on at the “Future Model of Senior Care” panel at Accelerate Health next week, to discuss telehealth and the aging population. 

“There are so many things going on before this pandemic that really led me to be passionate about this area and make sure we get it right,” Kvedar said. “One concept that I’m sure we will talk about on the panel is design for all. People mistakenly think that if you design things for seniors, that they’ll consume them. I’m 63. I don’t want anyone telling me I’ve got to have old people stuff. It’s a complicated matter.”

Seniors are already increasingly getting tech savvy. 

“Before we got to this situation with [COVID-19], people were getting used to skyping with their grandchildren and FaceTiming, and what have you, by using mobile devices. The user interface on mobile devices is very straightforward and doesn’t need a user manual,” he said. “Anybody, seniors included, takes to that technology very well. Of course, people in that age bracket are more at risk of harmful consequences from the virus, so more concerned about being out, [and] therefore more likely to be recipients of virtual care.”

During the pandemic, Kvedar noted that telehealth suddenly became a household name, which could set up the technology for the future. 

However, there are still a lot of unknowns about what life will look like after the coronavirus pandemic. That goes for the future of telehealth healthcare, too. 

“It’s hard to predict exactly. On the one hand, we can say, at a high-level, patients have engaged with telehealth and they are really happy with it. Doctors are engaged and they are happier with it than they ever were. Most payers acknowledge that there’s going to have to be some future for telehealth. But then you get little curve balls like one Blue Cross plan saying we aren’t going to pay for it after the public health emergency is lifted, or little things like that that make it challenging to create a whole program that’s reproducible.”

In general, Kvedar said that reimbursement needs to line up in order for it to work, and, specifically, the government has some work to do. 

“For example, on Medicare, if we lift the emergency without changing the law, and you are a Medicare recipient or Medicare patient, you won’t be able to get telehealth services unless you are in a very specific area.”

While the healthcare system is still hammering out what a system with digital tools will look like, Kvedar said he sees the technology as the way of the future. 

“The future is about a completely blended experience, so that when you as an individual need healthcare, it is a digital-first interaction, and then from there, there is automated triage to whether you need to be seen in person, whether you are better served by virtual, [or] whether you need to go into the emergency room,” he said. “Along the way, more and more resources to help you, whether it is wayfinding or various uses of device data, etc. It’s very exciting.”

Dr. Joe Kvedar will be a panelist for the program entitled "The Future Model of Senior Care,” at Accelerate Health on Sept. 29, at 1:10 to 1:40 p.m., E.T. 

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