During a time when access to health care is more vital than ever, the Montana Geriatric Education Center at the University of Montana will help provide telehealth services to older patients, thanks to new CARES funding.
The interdisciplinary center will use the $91,000 from the Geriatric Workforce Enhancement Program CARES funding to provide training for Montana health professionals, higher education faculty and health care students to better meet health needs of older residents in the state.
Through MTGEC activities, health care students and professionals learn to conduct telehealth assessments and visits, provide equipment or technologies to monitor health and chronic disease, and assist older adults in using technology to connect to health care services. Although adults ages 50 to 70 can be technologically savvy, some of Montana’s oldest residents rely on phone telehealth calls, MTGEC Associate Director Terry Egan said.
“Challenges with providing telehealth to older adults include lack of technology such as smart phones, tablets or computers, but also a lack of internet service, particularly in rural areas where internet service is limited,” Egan said. “There is a lack of experience with technology and perhaps unwillingness or inability (due to dementia or health issues) to learn.”
Older adults are at higher risk of serious illness if they become infected with COVID-19, making access to technology during the pandemic extremely important, Egan said. Investing in telehealth will help reach the older patients who are too fragile for travel, located in rural communities or at high risk for COVID-19. It also connects health care providers and caregivers, especially those working with patients with chronic health diseases or dementia, so they can better manage disease and quality of life.
MTGEC Director Sue Ostertag acknowledges that these training programs are necessary both now and into the future.
“Our post-pandemic world will most likely not return to its pre-COVID-19 status, and so now more than ever, the development of health care services and communication systems that rely on telehealth for effective delivery and patient outcomes is of paramount importance,” Ostertag said. “Through purchasing telehealth equipment for on-site and remote use, as well as providing support for training and program development, we are better preparing our current and future health care providers to serve the needs of all individuals.”
In the trainings, health care providers and students are able to engage with each other through case simulation, as well as directly with individuals via video and phone as they listen, assess, discuss treatment options and provide education.
“Caregivers and family also are involved and can provide valuable input if the patient needs support or assistance and can learn basic care skills and ways to advocate for their loved one from the providers,” Egan said. “It also is important for the caregiver to know whom and how to contact if a health issue arises.”
MTGEC has partnered with six organizations to provide the training, including the Alzheimer’s Association-MT Chapter, Mountain Pacific Quality Health, Missoula Aging Services, UM’s Skaggs School of Pharmacy, Partnership Health Center and RiverStone Health Center.
For more information, call MTGEC at 406-243-2480 or visit http://health.umt.edu/mtgec/.
Contact: Terry Egan, associate director, Montana Geriatric Education Center, 406-243-2480, firstname.lastname@example.org.