How to Reassure and Re-engage Older Patients


Don’t let fears about safety and technology become barriers to care

Patients have put off routine care during COVID-19 for fear of contracting the virus. In particular, routine outpatient appointments for pregnant women, infants, and elderly patients have been interrupted due to the pandemic.

A recent poll found that 43 percent of respondents were reluctant to visit their doctor and had cancelled all their routine appointments, compared to 22 percent who were not fearful and kept their in-person appointments. Data also show the number of telemedicine consultations increased rapidly in mid-April. 

Older patients may be especially concerned about coming into your practice right now for safety reasons, and some providers assume that they are unfamiliar with the technology required for telemedicine visits. Here are some things you can do to reassure your older patients and help them get the routine care they need.

Patients have legitimate safety concerns

If your elderly patients are particularly wary of venturing out to doctors’ appointments now, it’s with good reason. More than 80 percent of deaths related to COVID-19 have occurred in people age 65 and over.

If patients’ fears are not recognized and addressed, they might reconsider how soon they will book their appointments, according to Physicians Practice. “People need to hear how health systems are keeping them safe, and they need to hear it often. Patients want to hear what precautions are being taken and what protocols are in place, including the details.” 

Surveys show that patients want to hear from health providers more often, and they want detailed information about cleaning, sanitizing, and distancing protocols.

A recent series of surveys found that patients “want to hear about the number of times surfaces are cleaned, the types of disinfectants used, the protocols in place to keep patients separated, how they will enter the facility, etc.,” according to the Advisory Board, which added “getting messages twice a week was deemed an appropriate amount by respondents.” In our current climate, people want to hear from health providers more often.

Sharing Rendia’s newest videos is an easy and effective way to reassure patients that your practice is taking their safety seriously, whether that’s by implementing new cleaning and sanitizing procedures or updating your air filtration system

Many practices have changed their waiting room setup to maintain physical distancing, or eliminated their waiting room entirely. Elderly patients in particular need to be made aware of these changes in advance, in case they are used to bringing along a spouse or caregiver to their appointments. Ease their worries by addressing whether companions will have to wait in the car, how you will help patients navigate your office, and other concerns they might have.

Are you requiring patients to wear face masks? For practices that will be providing personal protective gear, send patients this video. If patients must bring their own face masks, send them this video before their appointment. The overall message should be: we are taking steps to keep our patients safe, this is what they are, and we are here to help.

“The biggest mistake you can make right now is to put out a blanket ‘we’re open’ message. Instead, you need to reassure patients and respond to their emotions surrounding COVID-19,” stated Physicians Practice.  

Seniors are not necessarily averse to technology

Another way to encourage your older patients to resume routine care is to let them know if you are offering telemedicine appointments, for what, and how those are conducted.

The stigma that older adults are averse to technology is not necessarily true, according to Sonja Rosen, M.D., chief of geriatric medicine at Cedars-Sinai. “I’ve had patients say they can’t FaceTime because they think it’s harder than it is,” she said. “So I just explain it, and the next thing you know, we’re doing a video call and they love it.”

Rendia customer Katie Greiner, O.D., confirms this experience with her older patients and telehealth visits. “Our elderly patients are definitely connected. They can do it.”

While some seniors may have been reluctant to embrace new technology in the past, now coronavirus fears have propelled patients to be more accepting of it.

Even prior to COVID-19, more than half of older adults were online and wanted to connect to their healthcare providers that way, according to statistics from Pew Research. While some seniors may have been reluctant to embrace new technology in the past, “now coronavirus fears have propelled our patients to be more accepting of it,” Stephanie Chow, M.D., an assistant professor of geriatrics and palliative medicine in New York City, told AARP.

This goes for patient education, too. Older patients may not realize that thanks to technology, patient education no longer has to happen only in the office. For example, when one Rendia customer, Dr. Marla Moon, showed a patient one of our cataract-related videos to explain the surgical procedure, the patient asked to schedule another visit to show it to her husband, since he was not with her that day. A benefit of Rendia videos is that they can be emailed directly to patients, so that they can share them with caregivers and family members at home. Most patients are happy to have this option.

Above all, now is the time to reassure patients, especially older ones, that it is safe and necessary to resume care with you, their trusted health provider, whether that means in person or online.

Being proactive and personal goes a long way toward supporting senior patients right now. According to the Advisory Board, “A large part of reassurance is personalized messaging. Contact directly from one’s physician, either via phone or email, is the most effective.”

In our last post, we suggested Timely Videos to Share with Patients Now

For more on the topic of older patients, read our blog post, Seniors and Shared Decision Making: Discussing Quality of Life.

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