During this unprecedented time, one thing is clear: The coronavirus has changed almost everything about life in America and around the globe. Testing, contact tracing, and social distancing measures are some of the most important tools we have to mitigate the spread of this virus, but we also need to focus on innovative ways to keep people connected—especially to crucial health services.
Expanding telehealth services has been one way we’ve done just that. Telehealth helps connect people to their doctors, protects vulnerable populations, and improves access to healthcare for rural areas. And as many high-risk Americans try to minimize their exposure to the coronavirus by limiting in-person medical appointments, telehealth is playing an increasingly important role in our healthcare system.
Expanding telehealth options is especially urgent for older Americans. This pandemic has taken a devastating toll on our nation’s seniors, with estimates indicating that those over 65 have accounted for 8 in 10 coronavirus-related deaths. Unfortunately, safety precautions designed to protect seniors have also left many alone and separated from their loved ones in the past several months.
In my home state of Minnesota, Elsie Dahl celebrated her 91st birthday not with hugs from family members, but by listening to them sing “Happy Birthday” outside the window of her assisted-living facility and sharing cupcakes with her nurses. Similar scenes have played out around the country as nursing facilities closed their doors to visitors to keep their residents safe.