There’s a common misconception that elderly patients lack the necessary skills to understand or use modern technology — especially when it comes to communicating with their doctors. In reality, many are embracing technology and using it quite proficiently thanks to the rise in digital communication, video conferencing, and telehealth brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. What’s more, some elderly patients these days actually want the ability to start conversations with their doctors via text.
A key to successful communication with elderly patients may lie in understanding their unique needs and then tailoring your approach accordingly. In this post, we delve into practical tips and insights to help you communicate more effectively with your elderly patients and create a more satisfying healthcare experience for them.
Understanding elderly patients and what makes them unique
Elderly patients can have unique healthcare needs because of the physiological changes and cognitive impairments they experience with aging. They may be more likely to have chronic conditions — including multiple chronic conditions — and may need individualized care to address their specific symptoms, medications, and overall care plans.
Despite these challenges, elderly patients can still be quite capable — especially when it comes to technology.
According to AARP’s 2023 Tech Trends report, tech usage is high among today’s 50-plus crowd:
- 86% own a smartphone
- 70% have a smart TV
- 59% use a tablet
- 94% text
- 88% email
- 74% use social media
- 67% video chat
Couple these trends with the digital push brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, and older adults may be more tech-literate than ever. For example, smartphone usage increased from 28% in 2019 to 40% in 2020 for communication with medical professionals alone. This increase includes telehealth visits, ordering prescriptions, receiving personal medical advice, and making appointments.
Despite these trends, many older adults may believe technology today is not designed with them in mind, citing concerns over everything from cost and data privacy to unclear benefits.
Potential benefits of effective communication with elderly patients
Effective communication can play an important role in providing high-quality care to any patient — but especially your older patients who may have comorbidities or other complications requiring complex care. When you communicate effectively, you may increase your chances of building trust with them and improving patient satisfaction and engagement. If a patient is more engaged and has a clearer understanding of their diagnoses and treatment plans, they may be more likely to adhere to their plans.
Communication channels elderly patients may prefer
Communication preferences can largely depend on a patient’s unique situation. For example, do they live in a remote area? Are they unable to drive themselves? Are they hard of hearing? Do they require a full-time caregiver? No matter what a patient needs, there are different communication and healthcare delivery channels older patients may prefer, including:
- In-person visits: Some patients may want a personal, face-to-face interaction with their doctors to establish trust and confidence in their care.
- Phone or telehealth: If patients don’t have transportation access, they may prefer interacting with their doctors by phone or telehealth visits.
- Text messaging: Texting or two-way messaging may be preferred if a patient is hard of hearing or if they want an easier way to start a conversation with their doctor. In fact, since the pandemic, messaging has become a preferred communication method for patients of all ages, including elderly patients.
At the end of the day, patients want to feel like a priority — not just a patient record or a name on a schedule — which is why it can be important to offer streamlined communication across all channels.
Tips for improving communication with elderly patients
Consider following these simple tips to help improve communication with elderly patients.
1. Use clear and concise language
To help elderly patients understand their diagnosis and care protocol, speak to them as you would any other patient — with clear, concise language. By avoiding medical jargon, you can help these patients better grasp their health conditions and treatment plans. This approach may foster trust and could lead to improved patient satisfaction.
2. Use visual aids
Visual aids can be helpful for elderly patients who are hard of hearing. Not only that, they may help simplify complex medical information and aid in memory retention and overall comprehension.
Common visuals include X-rays, medication charts, visual pain scales, anatomical models or diagrams, infographics, brochures, before-and-after photos and educational videos demonstrating the use of assistive devices like walkers or hearing aids.
3. Empathize with the patient
Empathy can help establish trust and rapport between a doctor and their patient. By understanding and validating your elderly patients, you may be able to better address their concerns and fears and provide a supportive healthcare environment they’ll want to come back to.
4. Use a person-centered approach
Loneliness can be a common experience among some elderly patients. When you take a person-centered approach to your elderly care, you may make a stronger connection with your patient and help them feel properly understood and cared for.
5. Allow for flexible communication
As mentioned above, communication preferences can vary depending on your elderly patients’ unique situations, so offering more than one communication channel may be beneficial. Going further, making each communication channel easily accessible may go a long way. This may mean using tools like a textable number for patients to initiate communication or a patient portal that does not require remembering a password. Additionally, easy online self-scheduling tools may help patients schedule last-minute appointments if needed.
6. Provide clear instructions
To help promote positive outcomes, it is important that elderly patients adhere to their treatment plans. No matter what these plans include — dietary changes, exercise routines, or medications — aim to provide clear instructions. Visual aids can also be helpful in this case.
7. Consider caregivers and family members
Some elderly patients may require the assistance of a caregiver or family member who plays a vital role in managing and coordinating the patient’s care. Involving them in discussions promotes understanding, collaboration and support, which may allow treatment plans to be more tailored, more effective, and properly followed.
Tips for messaging elderly patients
Patients of all ages, including elderly patients, may prefer to initiate conversations with their doctors through text instead of other communication methods. That said, how you communicate with elderly patients may look different than how you would with younger patients. Consider these tips when using two-way messaging with elderly patients:
- Be clear and professional: Avoid using medical jargon or abbreviations that may be confusing. Keep your sentences short and to the point, and use proper grammar and punctuation to help make sure your message is easily understood.
- Use polite and respectful language: Since it can be difficult to convey tone in written communication, be cautious with your wording to avoid any misinterpretation.
- Limit the use of emojis: Some elderly patients may not be familiar with emojis or their meanings, so it's best to use them sparingly, if at all.
- Provide clear instructions: If you're sharing information about appointments or other instructions, make sure the information is sent securely and is easy to follow and understand.
- Verify receipt of important information: If needed, ask the patient to confirm they received the information and that they understand it.
- Be patient: Elderly patients may not be as adept with technology or may take longer to respond to messages. Be patient and give them ample time to reply.
- Set expectations: Some patient communication platforms may allow you to message patients synchronously and asynchronously. However, some patients might expect you to respond right away to their messages. Being clear with them about your response times will set expectations and may help prevent patients from getting frustrated.
- Offer alternative communication methods: Some elderly patients may prefer phone calls or face-to-face conversations over texting. Offer alternative ways to communicate if necessary — or include a phone number in your message so they know who to call in the event of questions or health issues.
- Maintain patient confidentiality: Follow proper guidelines to maintain the safety and security of your patients’ sensitive information. Consider using a tool like Klara, which allows for secure transmission of sensitive information through an easy-to-use link sent by text. If your patient works with a caregiver, before you share information, make sure the caregiver is authorized to receive information related to the patient’s health and care plan.
How Klara helps streamline communication with elderly patients
Klara’s conversational patient engagement platform helps healthcare practices streamline communication with their patients so they can spend more time with patients rather than trying to reach them. For example, Klara can help your practice:
- Automate routine patient outreach: With Klara, medical offices can send automated text messages for routine patient outreach, like appointment reminders and instructions, and secure links for intake forms and insurance collection, follow-up care and more.
- Provide a textable phone number: Practices can give their patients a textable number that patients can use to initiate communications with the practice.
- Manage incoming messages: On the practice side, incoming patient messages are saved to a single conversation thread in Klara’s platform and can be assigned to the right person or department in your office. This helps promote faster replies.
- Open phone lines: Adding communication channels like texting and easy two-way messaging can help free up phone lines for those elderly patients who prefer to call.
At the end of the day, patients of all ages may prefer to be able to message their doctors. Klara helps make this possible and helps make it efficient for patients and your staff members. To learn more, book a demo today.
This blog is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute business, legal or medical advice. Please consult with your legal counsel and other qualified advisors to ensure compliance with applicable laws, regulations and standards.