Getting seniors to engage with medical technology is an age-old challenge. And, while the saturation of smartphones into modern culture has helped bridge that gap, engagement remains an elusive goal for some. Especially when it comes to telehealth programs like remote patient monitoring (RPM), many organizations can benefit from a patient engagement strategy that’s designed for the senior community.

Because of the many benefits it offers to senior care providers, many organizations are embracing RPM to help manage chronic conditions for older adults, as well as enable aging-at-home programs. And the most successful organizations are the ones that actively engage seniors in their care, ensuring not only positive outcomes but continuous improvement — and, of course, satisfied patients.

The importance of engaging seniors

First, the good news: Today’s seniors are more tech savvy than ever. According to a survey by Pew Research, 61% of adults aged 65 and older own a smartphone in 2021, up from 46% in 2018 and just 13% in 2012. Yet as fast as seniors are adopting new technology, there’s still almost four in 10 who don’t, according to that same research.

But while the use of telehealth by seniors is on a steady incline, especially during the pandemic, it’s also important to remember that not all older adults are comfortable with the use of this technology. Even though most seniors today do have access to a smartphone or desktop computer, they may not have the literacy needed to engage with telehealth programs.

In a survey of elderly-focused primary care providers in 2020, a Harvard Business Review article found that “around 50% of the patients with appropriate technology did not know how to use their smartphone for video visits,” and another where 20% to 40% “identified as ‘video-capable’” were not actually competent with the use of the telehealth technology.

“It shouldn’t be assumed that patients who have access to the right technology also have the skills needed to use it,” the authors observe.

And digital literacy is just one of the challenges facing organizations seeking an effective telehealth patient engagement strategy for seniors. Another is simple lack of access. Some seniors live in remote areas with little to no online availability, while many more struggle with the day-to-day management of their devices, even if they understand how to use them in principle.

Formidable as these obstacles may be, failing to meet them is not an option. By the year 2034, seniors will outnumber people aged 18 and younger for the first time in the history of the United States. And as that proportion increases, successfully engaging them will be more and more necessary to ensure positive outcomes (and full reimbursement under value-based care management models).

Older adults are both “the largest growing segment of the population and heavy users of healthcare systems,” as the authors of a review published in The Patient explain. “Engagement of these individuals and their caregivers is essential to disease prevention and self-management, as older adults with multiple chronic diseases are major users of the system.”

“Organizations that prepare patients before introducing RPM tools, provide digital health navigation, and offer customer and patient support may see more success,” writes Sara Heath for Xtelligent Healthcare Media. “In other words, healthcare providers can’t assume patients can just pick up the technology right off the bat.”

4 ways to ensure a successful RPM patient engagement strategy for seniors

Today, technology is more focused on the user experience than ever, making for RPM interfaces that are easy to use, even for seniors. Indeed, the thrust of telehealth tech development in recent years has been to embrace patients and boost engagement.

With that as a positive starting point, here are four ways that providers can further boost their patient engagement strategies for seniors in remote patient monitoring programs.

#1: Focus on ongoing education, support and resources

How can healthcare providers help make sure that their senior patients are willing and able to engage with remote care? One key patient engagement strategy for the successful use of RPM among seniors is providing the necessary education and support, every step of the way — from well before implementation, and throughout the process.

Indeed, education is essential at every point of every RPM program — and the burden is on the care provider to make sure that patients understand what resources are available to them, and how to access them. And that means developing (or sourcing) “a wide variety of patient training materials to support different learning styles and languages,” the AMA authors advise.

If you’re starting from scratch, a great place to begin is the AMA’s Remote Patient Monitoring Playbook. Designed for healthcare leaders for successful RPM program planning and implementation, the Playbook includes a helpful rundown of how to integrate ongoing education and support into the workflows of any remote patient monitoring program.

Heath also points to the usefulness of dedicated staff to provide ongoing support.

“While a digital health navigator will be helpful for patients with overall digital health literacy barriers, virtual help desks will be integral to troubleshooting one-off problems for those who generally feel comfortable with remote patient monitoring,” she writes.

“Of course, this can be challenging for organizations to staff. However, as more organizations have offered telehealth and remote patient monitoring devices, they have begun to adjust. In some cases, organizations have pivoted front office staff to carrying out this role.”

#2: Make a plan for patient preparedness

“Make the program about the patient,” advise the authors of the Remote Patient Monitoring Playbook from the American Medical Association (AMA). “As you plan to educate patients about the program, ensure there is adequate time to set expectations, answer questions, and discuss how remote monitoring can assist them in reaching their goals.”

“Walk them through their home setup,” advises the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in its guide to telehealth and older patients. “Assign a staff member to contact the patient before the telehealth visit to walk through the process for starting the visit.”

Did you know? Time spent with patients setting up devices is reimbursable under CMS guidelines. Read about current RPM codes and reimbursement rates here.

The AMA authors add a few more tips: integrating telehealth training into regular primary care appointments, setting context for “normal” data points and helping patients understand the difference between clinical and technical issues are all helpful considerations when setting up any new telehealth service.

#3: Address common obstacles

For some seniors, problems engaging with RPM and other telehealth technology can stem from lack of access rather than understanding. A key part of any effective patient engagement strategy is ensuring that all devices itself are delivered and set up successfully, and with as little fuss as possible.

To meet this important goal, some organizations are taking a hand-on approach, procuring and distributing devices rather than relying on a third-party vendor of durable medical equipment who may not consider patient engagement as important. Another option is partnering with a device provider that can ship devices directly to patients.

To best accommodate older adults who may lack Wi-Fi connectivity, it’s helpful to choose RPM devices that can instantly connect to a local cellular network. Making sure that patients have little to no work to do for themselves can help keep them positively engaged at an important early point. And remember that patient consultations can be performed over phone, too — video chat capability isn’t always necessary.

Get a closer look at RPM devices and how they drive improvements in patient care.

As the HHAS points out, there are also many resources available to help seniors who may have hearing and visual limitations, including “screen readers, voice-to-text programs, or programs with closed captioning options.”

#4: Don’t forget the inspiration

Ultimately, engaging patients means not only providing access to tools they understand and the support they need to use them, but also the motivation to do so on a day-to-day basis. Because it gives people daily readings, RPM can offer the kind of positive reinforcement that is often its own powerful patient engagement strategy. And providers can encourage this by setting long- and short-term goals.

“Use techniques like motivational interviewing to understand patient goals and generate excitement around how remote patient monitoring will help them reach those goals and identify what will motivate them to continue participating in their care,” advises the AMA.

And the biggest part of maintaining daily inspiration may very well be the preparedness and support we’ve already discussed.

“For the patient, training is sort of a tipping point that helps a person go from ‘I’m not doing this’ or ‘I have fears about doing this’ into ‘I’m ready to do it,'” as a remote care family advocate told the AMA.

“‘Now I have the information, the training, the support. I know how to do it. I’m not afraid of it. My questions have all been answered. I’m ready to go.’ And then they’re ready to walk through the door and do it.”

Set your RPM patient engagement strategy with CareSimple

Meeting all these steps takes investments in time and effort. But it’s well worth it to realize the benefits. And as the technology gets easier to use for patients, engagement will also come easier, helping to ease the learning curve of effective RPM program implementation.

As a leading provider of RPM solutions, CareSimple offers everything organizations need for remote patient monitoring. If you’re looking for more info on RPM, check out our Ultimate Guide to Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM). From basic definitions to a detailed look at technology, reimbursement, costing and more, the Ultimate Guide has everything you need to get a handle on this critical aspect of care delivery.

And if you’re looking for more information on finding an RPM platform that can deliver results customized to your organization’s precise needs, we’re standing by to help! Contact us today to connect with a CareSimple expert.