How to Help the Elderly with the First Teleconsultation Appointment

One elderly parent infected with Covid is already a handful. Two elderly parents infected with Covid at the same time are a crash course in patience.

When the second wave of Covid-19 came knocking at our collective doors in 2021, Neha’s parents were both infected with the virus. “It was definitely a scary time,” she says. “They both had different symptoms and at one point, both had different oxygen-saturation levels as well. In that state, keeping them isolated and still getting them timely medical care was proving to be a challenge.”

The one thing her parents did have in common was resistance to technology. “My parents freeze in the face of technology. They both refused teleconsultations at first. So I would set up their individual appointments and ask the doctors for video calls on my phone. Then I would double-mask, stand outside their doors, and hold the phone up so they could speak to the doctor.”

The Fear of Technology

Neha, a New Delhi resident, makes a good point about technology-induced anxiety faced by the elderly. Even though the last few years have seen higher-tech adoption rates and more video calls between families, online consultation for medical appointments is a different story.

Perhaps few things are more anxiety-causing for the elderly than learning how to use a new facet of technology. And since Covid-19 isn’t going away any time soon, more and more people are finding themselves in the role of caretakers for elderly patients.

“Since I’m the only one here with them at home, it does fall on me to keep track of doctor appointments and follow-ups,” she says. “And a large part of that time is spent convincing them that an online consultation is a good solution for avoiding exposure. And then showing them how to use the technology.”

What comes as second nature to digital natives becomes an overwhelming task at a certain age group. How does one explain the need for the right internet bandwidth, a strong device, the process of downloading an app, learning how to schedule an appointment, getting ready, and then actually showing up for that appointment?

How Can Care Providers Help?

Is the process of helping elderly patients equally daunting for care providers?

“It can be daunting,” says Bawa. “I would have loved a little tutorial or some support before my parents’ first online consultation to help me make it easier for them.” 

1.     Acknowledge the Awkwardness

“After he recovered, my Dad told me he didn’t want an online consultation because he hadn’t seen anybody for a long time. And he didn’t know what to say to the doctor.”

A little compassion goes a long way, especially for the elderly who have not been able to keep up their social routines. Acknowledge their loneliness and the need for human contact and assure them that you’ll be with them through the entire appointment.

2.     Make a List of Questions and Concerns

For all online consultations, but especially with the first one, having a productive and fruitful session is important. Making a clear list of the health concerns and questions – before the call begins – can help provide structure and make better use of limited time.

3.     Find a Clean, Noise-Free, and Well-Lit Corner 

Rule out any distractions as far as possible, and find a quiet and well-lit corner of the house to do the call in. “Making a clear diagnosis becomes difficult if the doctor can’t see you properly,” says Bawa. “Sitting next to a window is best.”

4.     Choose the Right Device

If possible, choose a device with a wide screen, like a tablet for the appointment. “My dad has trouble seeing small screens,” says Bawa. “My phone worked because it was the only option during Covid. But I definitely recommend a larger screen because seeing each other clearly is important for doctors and patients.”

Also, make sure to have a backup for the internet, in case the power goes out.

5.     Do a Test Run of the App

“If you’re logging in from an app, I highly recommend downloading it ahead of time and taking the time to do a test run,” says Bawa. “It saves a lot of time and frustration at the time of the appointment! And don’t be afraid of reaching out to the doctor’s office or to the hospital to ask for a little help.”

Even with the initial learning curve, was the effort worth the time?

“Yes, it was. More than anything, I felt a lot better about keeping my parents safe as much as I could during a critical time. And now that they’ve had a few appointments, and seen how simple it is, it’s been a lot easier for me to schedule follow-up visits for them through a teleconsultation.

The video calls were the closest they came to face-to-face contact, which really helped with putting them at ease.”