How Telemedicine Is Helping Seniors Find Faster Care in Retirement Settings

Seniors living in retirement homes are experiencing the benefits of telemedicine thanks to a new pilot project that connects them with a leading physician — all from the comfort of their home. 

In March, Think Research announced a partnership with CareRx, Canada’s leading provider of pharmacy services to seniors, to deliver virtual healthcare in select retirement homes. Through the partnership, doctors use Think’s VirtualCare telemedicine software to meet with residents on a secure, easy-to-use platform. 

“Telemedicine works really well because in the elderly population, mobility is often an issue,” says Dr. Russell Uppal, a Greater Toronto Area-based physician with the pilot program.  

“Getting from the retirement home to a clinic or emergency room is often an ordeal on its own… so virtual care adds this element of convenience and accessibility — which is what we’ve set out to do since [the pilot’s] inception.”

Now, months into the project, Uppal says one of the major benefits to virtual care is connecting with patients who are unable to see their family doctor right away due to wait times, or are unsure if they should seek immediate care in a hospital setting.

Uppal also works as an emergency room physician, and he sees a lot of people coming into the emergency department for issues that could have been resolved with a virtual visit. This is significant because the average cost of a visit to the emergency department in Canada is $304, and hospital care costs governments $68 billion a year.

Having the ability to see a doctor virtually first — and in a timely manner — gives patients a sense of the next best steps. This is particularly important for vulnerable seniors during the pandemic. 

“Patients are incredibly grateful because a lot of times they’re wondering if they need to seek further assessment,” Uppal says of the virtual appointments. “Families often are included in these calls, which helps a lot in terms of relaying information and clarifying some questions.”

Of course, there are limitations to telemedicine. Uppal says there’s times where he needs to physically be with a patient or order a test. 

There’s also the technology itself, which can be challenging for some seniors to navigate — especially if they have vision or hearing problems. Retirement home staff and on-site nurses help residents with the technology, which makes the process easier.  

And virtual care has huge benefits. 

Uppal sees telemedicine as a vital tool to improve access to healthcare for seniors, and a way to ensure retirement residents get timely, quality medical care. It’s also a way to reduce unnecessary hospital visits: a previous study of Think’s software found that residents in long-term care and retirement homes that used VirtualCare had fewer emergency department visits than homes that did not use the software. 

For Uppal, he’s seen the real-life impact telemedicine has on seniors, including with one patient who expressed relief after speaking about his health concerns while his primary care doctor was backlogged. He says his new patients are becoming increasingly comfortable talking to him virtually and they’ve managed to build rapport, even without an in-person experience.

“It gives patients comfort knowing that they can touch base with an MD… and that I’m able to offer a solution,” Uppal says. 

“I think that gives them a lot of reassurance.”