Doctor on telehealth visit with patient
Even after the pandemic, telemedicine remains an important option within SNF. (Credit: Yoshiyoshi Hirokawa/Getty Images)

Telemedicine was a crucial lifeline for skilled nursing facility residents during the pandemic period, but how has reliance on digital platforms shifted since then?

Although post-2021 usage of telemedicine is down from a pandemic peak, 10% of outpatient visits for SNF residents still are conducted online, a new study shows.

The report is the first such study to analyze telemedicine adoption strictly within the skilled nursing space, the study authors said. 

Although the use of telemedicine was low for routine appointments — just 2% among facility residents — that figure still was higher than before the pandemic, study authors noted. In addition, the fact that telemedicine didn’t lead to a spike in physician visits overall — digital or in-person — meant that concerns about “abuse and excessive billing” are thus far unfounded, the authors asserted. 

Access to telemedicine offers a variety of benefits for both providers and residents / patients, researchers pointed out, adding that it is important for both companies and the government to institute policies that enable access. 

More residents are using telemedicine for psychiatry visits than ever before, the study noted. But while telehealth use has increased access to mental health services, older adults remain the least likely age demographic to seek mental health assistance overall. Just 9% of seniors seek mental health treatment, previous studies have shown.

That’s the same percentage of older adults who self-reported depression or poor mental health during the pandemic period. Although seniors could be more wary than younger generations at seeking such services, the statistics point to some resilience overall, both during and after the pandemic, and overall solid coping skills. 

Within assisted living, expanded telehealth usage also depends doctors’ willingness to offer services through online portals; many providers and caregivers still are reluctant to rely on telemedicine for older adults, due to their physical or cognitive challenges, McKnight’s Long-Term Care News reported earlier this year.