From telehealth visits to digital pharmacies, seniors have ramped up technology use during COVID-19: survey

Older patient using telehealth
Prior to COVID-19 only 1 in 10 seniors used telemedicine. During COVID-19, 44% have used telemedicine and 43% say they intend on using it after, the survey found. (Agenturfotografin/Shutterstock)

Seniors have embraced technology during the COVID-19 pandemic, from booking virtual visits with their doctors to ordering their prescriptions online.

Telemedicine usage jumped 340% among Medicare-eligible seniors since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new survey.

Nearly one-third of consumers age 64 and older say they monitor their health using a wearable. What's more, 4 in 10 are interested in a wearable that helps them and those around them maintain appropriate social distance, according to the survey from healthinsurance.com.

The survey debunks the idea that only younger consumers widely use technology. Results were based on an online pool of more than 1,000 Medicare eligible consumers aged 64 and older conducted from July 17 to July 20.

Six in ten seniors say they are embracing technology more during the COVID-19 pandemic. One-third (34%) report using an online pharmacy.

Prior to COVID-19 only 1 in 10 used telemedicine. During COVID-19, 44% have used telemedicine and 43% say they intend on using it after, according to the survey. 

RELATED: Poll: Medicare Advantage members are taking to telehealth

Of those who used telemedicine, 58% say they have used it just once and 30% report using it once a month. Two-thirds of those who haven't tried telemedicine said the reason is simply because they haven't needed the service. 

The survey results are in line with other polls that have found Medicare members are taking to telehealth.

A poll conducted by Morning Consult and sponsored by the Better Medicare Alliance back in May found that roughly half of seniors are comfortable using telehealth to get healthcare, and those that do largely say they had a favorable experience.

Data from insurance giant UnitedHealth also shows that the telehealth sector is making inroads with specific hard-to-reach demographics.

Telehealth adoption has rapidly increased among seniors, according to the company's data. And patients in rural areas also are gravitating toward telemedicine, according to John Walthour, vice president of research at UnitedHealth Group.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has reported that telehealth usage has surged in the past four months. Before the public health emergency, approximately 13,000 beneficiaries in fee-for-service Medicare received telemedicine in a week. In the last week of April, nearly 1.7 million beneficiaries received telehealth services, CMS data shows.

President Donald Trump issued an executive order Monday to permanently expand some telehealth services beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. Policy changes from CMS also support the increased use of telehealth among Medicare beneficiaries.

RELATED: UnitedHealth execs: Patients are using telehealth for convenience, not as a necessity

The healthinsurance.com survey also found that seniors are using online tools to research their healthcare options.

Nearly 8 in 10 research their Medicare options online. Forty-four percent enroll using the internet, and the remaining 56% sign up either in person or on the phone.

Healthcare costs are a top concern about seniors, the survey found. Two-thirds say they are worried about out-of-pocket medical costs. Six in ten are worried about an unexpected medical bill, so much so that 36% have put off seeing a doctor because of cost.

These concerns could impact how surveyed seniors vote in the upcoming 2020 presidential election.

Nine in ten say lowering drug prices is important to them and 68% say the economy and healthcare are the two most important issues to them in the 2020 election. 

And, it turns out, certain behaviors are pretty universal during the COVID-19 pandemic as everyone is encouraged to stay home. 

Case in point, almost half of seniors admit to binge-watching. And cheers to all the virtual happy hours—half of surveyed seniors also say they have video chatted more since the start of COVID-19. 

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