Why the Challenges of Telehealth Are Not Just About Access
by Jessica Denson, Communications Director
Louisville, KY and Yukon, OK (May 12, 2020) – “I have a cell phone but not one of those fancy smart phones, and I don’t have a computer with a camera so how did they expect me to do a doctor’s appointment like that?”
That’s my dad, Jim Denson, on the phone railing about his doctor’s office. His primary-care physician of 30 years recently passed away and several of his others doctors retired, so he’s having to work with new doctors—some of whom are offering him telehealth options for his appointments.
My dad used to work in health care helping physical therapy patients, but about 25 years ago, he was diagnosed with dystonia with dyskinesia. Don’t worry—we didn’t know what it was either, so I’ll explain.
Essentially, they are movement disorders. Dystonia is sustained muscle contractions that can be very painful and dyskinesia is a type of muscle twisting that was brought on by some of the drugs he was prescribed early on in his treatments and diagnosis. Both are usually associated with Parkinson’s patients, but my dad doesn’t have that.
He does, however, rely on multiple doctors to help manage his pain and treatments. My father (pictured left with my sister, Jennifer, and me) has had several brain surgeries, been put on countless medications, and must get shots in his eyelids to relax the muscles just so he can keep them open.
The point is—he needs to access doctors who understand his disease. Right now, because of COVID-19 and new approaches to healthcare, that’s tougher than ever before, especially for some older Americans.
“I’m 68 years old. These smart phones didn’t come out until I was in my 50s,” he said over the phone. “I remember your mom gave your sister a computer and we had to actually program that thing. It was so confusing. That’s the first time I really remember having a computer around.”
Truth be told, I taught my dad how to use a computer about 20 years ago, and it was a bit of an adjustment for him.
“I don’t know what you mean by ‘double click’ the mouse, I’m double clicking,” I vividly remember him saying.
He got past that and was soon refurbishing old computers for the local food bank program and elementary schools to use. He lives in Yukon, Oklahoma, and I live in Louisville, Kentucky. He even sent me a computer to help with a local nonprofit I volunteered for—No Kill Louisville.
But, despite his computer savvy, time marched on and so did technology. Smart phones arrived, faster computers arrived, different kinds of internet arrived, new smart home devices and Netflix and Facebook and Twitter and, more recently, telehealth all arrived—and my dad, like many of his generation, was suddenly left wondering how to navigate it all.
Because of my father’s age, he is among the high-risk groups for fatality if exposed to COVID-19. To many of us, including his new doctor’s office, telehealth visits seem the appropriate solution to lower his risk of exposure—to protect him.
But, as we talked on the phone, it became clear to me that I had missed something important over the last few years. I needed to help my dad navigate this new technology and share how it could help and support him.
Also, as we talked, I stopped him and asked if I could share his story. I am, after all, the Communications Director for Connected Nation. Our mission is “to improve lives by providing innovative solutions that expand the access, adoption, and use of high-speed internet and its related technologies to all people.”
The access piece is something we talk about all the time. Now, I was suddenly hit in the face with the realization that ALL of us must also pay even more attention to the “use” of this technology—especially right now.
That means providing easy-to-access training for senior citizens and other vulnerable populations, understanding the makeup of our communities so we can identify those needs, and, for me and maybe for you, helping your dad understand how telehealth can help him and how to actually use it.
Photo right: My dad teaching me something he's great at doing--playing guitar.
Connected Nation’s Drive website offers several free training resources for the public at https://www.driveyourlearning.org/.
Below are some of the most-commonly used training resources on Drive for those who are new to the internet:
- Introduction to Email
- Introduction to the Internet
- Internet Safety