Assessing Telemedicine Unreadiness Among Older Adults in the U.S.

The COVID-19 pandemic has spurred a rapid and massive shift to telemedicine to help protect patients and providers from infection. A JAMA Internal Medicine research letter asserts that an estimated 38% of older adults in the U.S. are not ready for telemedicine, mainly due to inexperience with technology.

These findings are based on a cross-sectional study of 4,525 community-dwelling adults age 65 or older using 2018 data from the National Health and Aging Trends Study.

Researchers define this “unreadiness” as difficulty hearing and/or seeing, problems communicating, possible dementia, owning no internet-enabled devices or being unaware of how to use them, or no use of email, texting or internet in the prior month.

Unreadiness was more prevalent in patients who were older, unmarried, resided in a non-metropolitan area, male, Black or Hispanic, and/or had social risk factors such as less education and lower income.

The researchers suggest that as telemedicine becomes ubiquitous, policies must be established to bridge this digital divide such as covering telecommunications devices as medically necessary, making accessibility accommodations (e.g. closed captioning), and recognizing that telemedicine may be impossible for some patients.