Home healthcare workers can be an invaluable resource in telehealth visits with elderly patients, the author of a new study on telehealth barriers told McKnight’s Home Care Daily.

But Katherine Ornstein, Ph.D., from Mt. Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine said many caregivers struggled with digital literacy themselves. “Many are incredibly helpful, but they certainly do not have any training on facilitating these visits,” she said. 

The study by Mount Sinai Visiting Doctors, a home-based primary care (HBPC) program, found that more than 80% of the 873 patients who took part in telehealth visits in the study needed assistance from a family member or paid caregiver to complete the visit.

Ornstein said home health providers were most likely to assist patients during telehealth visits because family members were often at work. She said consistency is vital to ensuring each visit proceeds smoothly.

“It can be challenging as paid providers have different schedules, so the home attendant that helps with telehealth may not be available for the Friday telehealth visit,” Ornstein said.

The study found nearly a third of elderly patients had difficulty interacting with physicians during visits due to cognitive or sensory impairment. Many older users also lacked broadband access and familiarity with wireless technology.

As the use of telehealth expands, the researchers recommended providing elderly patients with telehealth-ready devices and sending community health workers to homes to assist patients and their caregivers with setting up the device. They also recommended that health systems collect information on patient telehealth capacity to reduce barriers to telehealth use.