As the nation nears 150,000 COVID-19-related deaths and the infection rate continues to soar, many Americans are uncertain of what this could mean for their health in the foreseeable future. And, no population is more at risk of contracting the illness and dying from its debilitating symptoms than senior citizens. With over 80% of those who have died being over the age of 65, seniors have experienced a double-edged attack by COVID-19. They are more susceptible to the virus and the enforced stay-at-home orders, the isolation from family, caregivers, and medical professionals has served to put this already vulnerable population at even more risk.
That’s why the emergence of telehealth serves as a bridge for millions of seniors to get the medical care they may need that they either did not have access to or were unable to safely receive without fear of exposure to COVID-19.
However, with nearly 50% of the senior population lacking access to the internet, even getting medical care through telehealth channels can be difficult. Combined with the fact that one out of four seniors lives alone, the question of how to best treat our aging population without increasing their exposure to the coronavirus has quickly emerged as a dire question.
With places like community centers and libraries being forced to close as a safety measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19, many seniors that would normally have access to the internet have been left in the dark. Several broadband internet providers like Comcast and Verizon have recently rolled out new initiatives designed to lower the cost of the internet, opening up access to millions of seniors across the country.
For a full list of discounted internet programs for seniors over 62 years old, click here.
Despite more affordable internet options, the technology gap among the senior population still remains.
Many seniors lack the technical skills needed to comfortably navigate the internet, making it hard for them to request or attend telehealth appointments. To overcome this problem, physicians and hospital centers are providing more customer service staff to help walk seniors through their online portals over the phone. With the recent March 30, 2020, Health and Human Services’ mandate that enabled medical providers to leverage non-HIPAA compliant video platforms like Skype and FaceTime, doctors have been able to more easily reach the elderly who may lack the technical skills needed to access a more robust and secure telehealth portal.
Due to their reduced use of social media and the internet, compared to other age demographics, marketing your telehealth services to senior citizens is most effective through more traditional channels. Leveraging television and radio ads are more likely to reach this vulnerable population. Even employing direct marketing strategies targeting senior living facilities or senior community centers can be a viable option, as these facilities often provide both technical training for seniors and consistent access to the internet. Using social media to market your telehealth services can be a fruitful strategy as well, especially for those seniors that are more tech-savvy and/or have adult children that may respond to your advertising for their elderly parents.
The key to reaching this aging population is to position your telehealth program as being both affordable and user-friendly. The more you can lower the barrier for seniors to participate, whether online on a computer, or through their mobile devices, the higher the rate of adoption will be.