While primary care physicians continue to improve the treatment of elderly patients in the U.S., there is still room to use health information technologies to minimize gaps in the care continuum.
This idea was further validated by a study published in The Journal of Rural Health this month showing that Oregon adults aged 85 or older in rural areas have significantly higher levels of chronic disease, take more medications, and die several years earlier than their urban counterparts.
Here are some relevant stats from the study:
- Rural participants were found to use an average of 5.5 medications, compared to 3.7 for urban participants
- The median survival time of the rural cohort was 3.5 years, compared to 7.1 years for the urban older adults.
- Relevant residents measured significantly higher on the Modified Cumulative Illness Rating Scale, with about an 18 percent higher disease burden.
In particular, the researchers identified that elderly patients in rural populations often have less access to physicians, longer distances to travel for care, and health problems that might have been reduced if they were treated earlier or more aggressively,
Perhaps the most illuminating part of the report is this quote:
“Especially in very old populations, illness can lead to more illness and quickly spiral out of control. A patient in an urban setting might receive prompt treatment for a mild ulcer, whereas the same person in a rural setting might have to wait while the condition worsens and may even lead to cancer.”
While the results may be worrisome, the study proves that the ability to provide remote care is invaluable, especially as each of the negative factors mentioned above can be offset with telehealth services. For example, the symptoms of a mild ulcer could be detected via a simple screening call from the doctor’s office, prompting caregivers to identify a treatment plan that alleviates symptoms before the patient’s condition worsens and becomes unmanageable.
Thankfully, Medicare’s Chronic Care Management Program is now reimbursing physicians under CPT 99490 to provide monthly calls that gather the full patient picture and allow for timely and specific medical interventions, ensuring that all patients receive the appropriate care regardless of their location or age.