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The Area Agency on Aging and Disabilities of Southwest Washington is taking appointments for its telehealth access hub, a way for Medicare patients to connect with their doctors virtually.

The Area Agency on Aging and Disabilities of Southwest Washington (AAADSW) is helping local Medicare recipients connect with their doctors virtually with its new telemedicine access hub. The access hub helps senior citizens on Medicare connect and participate in virtual doctor appointments in a safe and healthy way at its location in Vancouver. 

AAADSW Community Services Supervisor Breanne Swanson said the agency has been working on the project since about April 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic forced a lot of day-to-day life experiences, such as doctors appointments, into a digital format. The AAADSW  started to realize that there was a large population of local Medicare recipients who need to connect with their doctors but don’t know how to do so online. According to Swanson, the telemedicine access hub “serves as a place for patients to come in and access a video appointment with their doctor.” 

Swanson said the new hub is a way for people who do not have access to a computer with high speed internet or don’t have a video capable webcam on their computer to gain access to digital services provided by medical professionals. 

“We are going to have a webcam enabled computer and the support staff to help them connect and a private room to do it,” Swanson said.

If a person already has a webcam enabled computer or a smartphone with internet access, Swanson said a client can bring in their device, and the staff at AAADSW will teach them how to connect with their doctor, view virtual medical records and more. 

“Many people do have these devices and are comfortable doing things like checking email but they may not know how to connect to their doctors and their virtual medical record and they don’t have the support to know how,” Swanson said. “We’re offering that support.” 

The program is only open to recipients of Medicare and is completely free of charge. Those interested in using the service should first talk with their doctor to see if virtual doctor appointments would be good for them and their medical condition. If online appointments would work for you, Swanson said to schedule the appointment with your doctor about three to four weeks out. After that, reach out to the telehealth access hub to schedule an appointment at their physical center at the same time as the doctor's appointment. 

Swanson said those contacting the access hub should do so about two weeks in advance of their doctor appointment. When scheduling an appointment with the access hub, staff at the hub will ask questions to gauge the needs of the recipient. Some users of the access hub will need a full computer with a webcam while others just need help connecting. After screening the recipients needs, an appointment is booked at the telehealth access hub.

According to Swanson, on the day of the appointment, attendees check in with AAADSW staff and conduct a brief COVID-19 symptom test and temperature check. If passed, the attendee is escorted to a private conference room to conduct their virtual appointment with their doctor. Swanson said there is minimal staff at the access hub as AAADSW is currently working at 25 percent capacity and all employees are following social distancing guidelines, so attendees can be confident that attending the access hub is safe for their health. 

“They will have significantly less interactions at our office compared to the waiting room at the clinic,” Swanson explained. “There is a very small chance that they will encounter anyone other than staff.”

Not interacting with other people is one of the biggest benefits of telehealth, Swanson mentioned. With fewer interactions, those using telehealth have less of a chance of contracting viruses such as COVID-19 and influenza. 

According to Swanson, not only the use of telehealth services has seen an increase, but the demand too. In a presentation provided by Swanson, use of telehealth services has increased from 11 percent in 2019 to 46 percent in 2020. Along with the rise in use, Swanson said 76 percent of people are interested in using telehealth. 

“From what I understand, there are a lot of older adults that would like to participate in video visits with their doctor but don’t know how,” Swanson said. 

Swanson explained that not every doctor utilizes telehealth and some appointments are better conducted in person. However, telehealth services can serve a benefit to the senior population as many appointments can be done online and save a person time, gas and more. 

“Telehealth is helpful for people who have a hard time getting to the clinic,” Swanson said. “It’s going to be a lot easier for them to have a visit at their house.”

For Swanson and AAADSW, the main goal of offering the telehealth access hub to Medicare recipients in the area is to teach them how to use their devices at home to access these appointments. However, she said they wouldn’t want to limit anyone and will still “continue to serve people again and again.”

If you want to schedule an appointment at the telehealth access hub, contact the staff by calling (360) 694-8144 or email at iaclark@dshs.wa.gov

 

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