Elder Law, Healthcare

Tips for Understanding Medicare

Navigating Medicare can sometimes seem like going through a maze. On the one hand, Medicare is obviously a good resource because it provides medical benefits to seniors who are often on a fixed income. On the other hand, however, navigating the ins and outs of Medicare can be seriously confusing, causing many to give up in exasperation. If you are a senior and in need of medical care do not despair—there are numerous resources available to help you navigate the complicated details and minutiae of Medicare.

  • Consider hiring a qualified local elder law attorney sooner than later. Their professional knowledge of the ins and outs of the Medicare system combined with their experience working with senior citizens allows you to get the help and coverage you need as quickly as possible.
  • There are multiple websites you should check out. Medicare.gov, the official site of Medicare should be a starting point, as it provides numerous facts on the program and allows you to search for providers. The Social Security Administration website also has information on Medicare eligibility and enrollment. These are just two, but you can perform an Internet search on Medicare information and you will receive a list of several sites to review.
  • If you are uncomfortable working with computers it would be in your best interests to ask a friend or relative to help you because some of the information on the internet is very valuable. However, for those who would rather talk to a person, you may call 1-800-MEDICARE (800-633-4227) for more information.
  • Another great resource is the American Association for Retired Persons, commonly known as AARP. AARP is a well-established advocate for senior citizens in the United States. The organization offers helpful, reliable resources such as Information-packed webinars featuring experts who can break down some of the Medicare facts that applicants need to know.
  • There also may be support available at the state level like State Health Insurance Assistance Programs, or SHIPs. These programs offer free counseling for seniors who receive Medicare. Medicare applicants and their loved ones should visit shiptacenter.org for more information.

But if you want to save yourself hours of confusing computer research and potential headaches, the best idea is to speak with an experienced local elder law attorney before the Medicare application process even begins. A good elder law attorney can assist you with the complex process, ensuring that you get the benefits you are entitled to more quickly. If you have questions or would like to discuss your personal situation, please don’t hesitate to contact us. Please contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.

Elder Law, Healthcare

Department of Veterans Affairs Nursing Homes’ Nationwide Rankings

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) released a ranking of 133 VA nursing homes in an effort to further transparency within the organization. The 5-star ranking system helps veterans and their families to locate the best facility possible in their area. The posted performance ratings are slated to be updated annually and include the names of the nursing homes associated with the VA system, one to five-star ratings for quality of the environment, care, and staff based on unannounced on-site surveys at each facility from which an over all-star ranking is assessed for each facility based on the criteria scores.

The mandate for more transparency regarding veteran care began with other internal statistics that are now publically published including:

The VA is the first hospital system nationwide to publish these statistics. “Now that VA has made a commitment to reporting accurate quality and comparative data on its nursing homes, we are pleased to begin adding that important information to our transparency portfolio for the benefit of Veterans in making their health care choices,” said Acting VA Secretary Peter O’Rourke.

Of the 133 nursing homes ranked, 34 earned an overall 5-star ranking. 73 nursing care facilities experienced no relevant change in quality. One nursing home dropped from a 5 to a 4-star ranking but still retains a reputation for quality VA care. The acting VA Secretary is determined to use best practices to lift the 11 worst scoring; one-star rated nursing homes to viability and overall drive improvements across the VA nursing home system.

The ranking system used within the VA system was designed to allow valuable comparisons to the already existing 5-star ranking system by the Centers for Medicare (CMS), a federal agency within the Department of Health and Human Services. The VA nursing home interactive map helps you identify your best options. Then you can compare those options against Medicare.gov Nursing Home Compare searches.

Overall the data shows that the VA nursing home system ranks very close to private sector nursing homes, even though the VA nursing homes on average care for sicker patients than those in private care facilities. Of the 15,487 nursing homes ranked by CMS, almost 29 percent had 5-star rankings, compared to about 26 percent of VA nursing homes. However, the VA had only an 8 percent one-star ranking compared to 13 percent for CMS-ranked private care facilities. It should be noted that because the VA does not turn away eligible veterans and they typically come with more complex medical conditions it is more difficult for the VA nursing home system to achieve higher rankings. Of course, these are just statistics, and while they help with the overview of options, this is a veteran’s story of care; it’s a story about people who served this country.

VA nursing home patients tend to have more numerous and challenging medical conditions than their private-sector counterparts patients. Residents in a VA nursing home have conditions rarely seen in private nursing homes including higher incidents of prostate obstruction, spinal cord injury, mental illness, homelessness, PTSD, and combat injury. While a private sector facility can selectively admit patients, the VA will not refuse service to an eligible veteran no matter their condition.

Transparency of VA nursing home care and ranking systems that allow comparison to private care facilities can significantly help you or a veteran you love get the proper nursing home care required. There is a lot of information to understand how your specific military service record ranks you within the VA health care system in general and then explicitly applying those conditions to an adequately ranked nursing facility. If we can be of assistance, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Please contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.

Elder Law, Healthcare

Divorce and the Effects on Medicaid

Every so often, marriage comes later in life as it did for Wanda and Harry. This was their second marriage, and both had children from the prior marriages. The couple wanted their children to inherit from their respective parents, so Harry and Wanda signed a prenuptial agreement to keep their property clearly separated.

Unfortunately, Harry was then diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Medical bills piled up, his condition worsened, and soon Wanda was no longer able to care for him at home. But the cost of nursing-home care was formidable.

The Medicaid program is designed to help pay for that staggering cost. However, before a couple can be eligible, the rules require that the assets of both spouses are counted to pay for the care of one, even if only one spouse needs the care. Prenuptial agreements do not matter. The Medicaid rules count the assets of both spouses together. Wanda would be permitted to keep some of her property for her own use – but this would not be enough for her to maintain her standard of living, pay for her retirement, and still leave enough for Wanda’s children to inherit.

Wanda heard that divorce might solve this dilemma. The couple’s assets would get separated in the divorce proceedings and, after that, only the property designated as Harry’s would be applied to the cost of his care. He would spend that down, Medicaid would then step in, and Wanda’s share would remain her own.

But Wanda didn’t like the idea of a divorce that would be only “on paper,” because she had no intention of deserting Harry in his time of need. Harry’s children weren’t happy, either. And if the divorce was going to work as intended, the couple should probably consult not just one but three professionals – an elder law attorney, a financial planner, and a divorce lawyer.

But this plan would involve expense, possible family unrest, and uncertainty as to whether a court would approve the plan. The divorce strategy comes with significant downsides.

Early planning is best, to consult an elder law attorney at least five years before the need for Medicaid arrives. If that is not possible, an experienced elder law attorney can find other, less-fraught ways than divorce.

Early planning if possible, though, is always best. If we can be of assistance, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Please contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.

Estate Planning, Healthcare

Advance Health-Care Directives for Critical Decisions

Imagining how we may perish is probably one of the hardest things we will ever have to think about. Yet, if we want our dying to be meaningful and merciful, it is imperative that we think about it while we still can. Most of us want to die at home, in a familiar and peaceful setting surrounded by loved ones. We would much rather not spend our last moments in an emergency room or ICU, with strangers futilely pounding on our chests and our families relegated to the waiting room.

With those two alternatives in mind, we need to do all we can to keep control, as much as possible, of decisions that need to be made long before our final moments. We need to think carefully, well in advance, about what makes life worth living, and where pain and limitation have so eroded that quality of life that we would prefer not to go there.

These are notoriously difficult questions, but it is vital to address them anyway. For example, Terri Schiavo spent nearly half her young life unconscious in a condition known as a “persistent vegetative state,” being kept alive by a feeding tube. Her husband and friends claimed that before her severe brain injury, she said that she would not want her life sustained by machines. Unfortunately, she never put that wish in writing. On the other side, her devout family and right-to-life supporters insisted that she be kept alive despite her dire condition. After protracted litigation, Ms. Schiavo’s husband prevailed, the feeding tube was withdrawn, and fifteen years after she was injured and never having regained consciousness, she was finally allowed to die.

Since her passing, the law has evolved nationwide to encourage us all to document final wishes, to avoid the anguish and uncertainty of Ms. Schiavo’s situation. There are a number of documents available in your state for that purpose. The umbrella term for these is “advance health-care directives.”

It’s our job as lawyers to help you sort through the various directives needed to express your wishes. Here is a step-by-step guide to begin the conversation about final wishes, and to understand which document does what when.

1. If you are over the age of 18, appoint a health-care agent to speak for you when you can’t.

Decide who, among those who know you well, is best suited to take on this responsibility. That person must possess good communication skills, remain calm in difficult situations, and be able to deal flexibly with the complexity that might arise in reconciling your wishes with available medical options. Depending on which state you live in, your agent can also be called a “health care proxy.”

Sit down with that person and discuss your wishes in various scenarios. This is not an easy conversation to have, but there are guides available to help you. Visit “The Conversation”

and download the starter kit.

Click to access TCP_StarterKit_Final.pdf

2. Health Care Power of Attorney (HCPOA)

Once you have had that conversation, visit your lawyer to name your agent formally in an HCPOA document. HCPOA conveys legal authority on your agent or proxy to express your health-care decisions when you are unable to.

3. HIPAA authorization

Your agent or proxy will also need access to your otherwise private medical information. This is best done by a standardized document that complies with the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Without this authorization, your agent will be unable to obtain the medical information necessary to exercise the authority you want him or her to have.

Now armed with your agent and the HCPOA and HIPAA documents, you will know that if you were to meet with an accident or lose consciousness, you have chosen and empowered an advocate to speak for you. You should review and update these documents every five years or so.

The next three documents are important at the end of life. All these documents should stipulate that you desire comfort care, to keep you clean and as pain-free as possible. Remember, though, that you must create these documents while you are still able to know and communicate your wishes, so it’s best to do the next two documents at the same time that you do your HCPOA and HIPAA.

4. Living Will (also known as Physician’s Directive)

This document is for use when you are not enjoying the quality of life. Either death is imminent; you are in a persistent vegetative state; or you are permanently unconscious, permanently confused, or unable to care for yourself. If you have no awareness of others; can’t remember or understand or express yourself, or are unable to move, bathe, or dress yourself, it’s advisable to have expressed, in advance, the kind of treatment you want to receive or not receive.

A living will express your choice as to whether you do, or do not, want artificial measures that will merely prolong your life but not improve it. Those measures, among others, may include CPR if your heart stops, or breathing or feeding tubes or repeated courses of antibiotics or chemotherapy.

You may also require physicians, and not your agent, to be the ones to decide whether to cease life-prolonging procedures as you would like. This decision will relieve your agent from the heavy responsibility of making that irreversible choice.

Living wills are legal in almost every state. Ask your lawyer. Don’t make this kind of document yourself. Otherwise, you risk that the document may be misinterpreted, with drastic consequences.

5. Specialized Directives

Medical decision-making varies depending on specific health conditions, so specific directives may be tailor-made for those conditions. For example, people suffering from advanced dementia benefit from a directive, in addition to the HCPOA or living will, specifically requesting that hand-feeding be ceased when the person can no longer speak, recognize loved ones, or move purposefully. Otherwise, caregivers are obligated to cajole or demand that the patient be fed by hand, taking advantage of a primitive reflex to open the mouth. This risks that the person may inhale the mush instead of swallowing it, in some cases causing pneumonia.

For this kind of condition, ask your lawyer to prepare a specific directive tailored for advanced dementia, using the directives created by End of Life Washington

or End of Life Choices New York.

If, however, you suffer from a neurological illness like Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS) or advanced Parkinson’s, even though most of us would decline mechanical treatments, those same treatments may be important aids to preserve the quality of life for people with those conditions.

Again, remember that you must create these documents while you still have the capacity to communicate your wishes. Living wills should be reviewed every six months because wishes can change depending on the progress of the illness.

6. POLST or MOLST

This is a brightly colored, short-form document that is primarily intended for emergency responders when the patient is frail and is likely to die within a year. It is designed to be immediately recognizable by hospitals and EMS personnel, to express that when the patient is unresponsive, cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and other aggressive treatments are desired or not desired (DNR).

This document should be filled out in consultation with the patient’s physician. The acronyms stand for “physicians’ orders for life-sustaining treatment” or “medical orders for life-sustaining treatment.”  Many states provide for this kind of document.

7. Make Your Documents Known

When it comes time to use your documents, they must be readily available. Give a copy of them to your agent or proxy, make sure they are included in your medical records, and, if you are in need of the POLST or MOLST, post it beside your bed or on your fridge where EMT knows to look for it. If your documents can’t be found, or if your agent or family don’t understand them or ignore them, you will have spent your time, effort, and money in vain.

But if all goes according to your wishes, you will have done your best to create a good death, one that is as meaningful as possible for all concerned. If you have questions or would like to discuss your personal situation, please don’t hesitate to contact us. Please contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.

Elder Law, Elder Living, Estate Planning, Healthcare

How Do the Stimulus Payments Affect Medicaid?

The federal government has issued direct payments, “stimulus checks”, to most Americans to invigorate the economy after the devastating coronavirus pandemic. This money is to ease the pain of the Covid pandemic and to jump-start the economy.

The stimulus money should have arrived in the same way that Social Security payments or tax refunds are made, either direct-deposited into a bank account or mailed as a paper check. If the money has not arrived, or for guidance in general, consult the IRS website:

https://www.irs.gov/coronavirus/economic-impact-payment-information-center#more. Other options are to call 800-919-9835 or 800-829-1040, or you can visit your local Taxpayer Assistance Center.

Those who are receiving means-tied government assistance, like SSI, VA benefits, or Medicaid to pay for long-term care, need not worry that stimulus money will be counted against them for eligibility. As long as recipients spend the money within twelve months, the money will not push them over the maximum amount they are permitted before they are penalized.

Recipients may use the money to buy new clothing, cell phones or televisions, toiletries, snacks, dental treatment, or improved quality of medical supplies. They may buy an irrevocable funeral trust, to avoid future expenses to family members. They may give the money away to family or charities. The money might pay for updating estate-planning documents, or for consulting a geriatric care manager. (Some commentators believe that you could give the money away to family or charities. While this may be OK under federal law, it’s probably best not to take chances with how the states may interpret it. Spend the money, don’t donate it.)

Provided that the money is not spent on what could be called an asset or an investment – like, for example, rare coins or stocks or bonds – the money will not be counted against the asset limit for Medicaid eligibility. And, again, the money must be spent within twelve months. It must not be forgotten about or left unnoticed in a bank account.

It also must not be misappropriated by nursing homes or assisted-living facilities. If this has happened to you or your loved one, inform the facility manager that the money must be refunded to the resident. Cite the law that carves out the payment from being counted toward federally assisted programs like Medicaid: 26 U.S.C. § 6409.  Or, show them a handout downloadable from the Congressional Research Service.

If the facility will not refund the money, contact your state’s attorney general. Then lodge a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.

Recipients of assistance, like anyone else, are free to spend their stimulus money. The money is theirs. It is tax-free. It is intended to be spent, and it should be spent, in any way the recipient would like (subject to the conditions above).

This is one time when spending is unquestionably a good thing – for buyers and sellers.

If you have questions or would like to discuss your situation in a confidential setting, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Please contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.

Elder Law, Elder Living, Estate Planning, Healthcare

American Nursing Homes Face a Dilemma

Our country’s nursing facilities are home to the most vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic. When the novel coronavirus did hit, these nursing homes became its ground zero as many residents and workers did not receive testing, and staff found obtaining personal protective equipment a struggle. Some facilities tended to downplay the severity of the outbreaks. Couple these issues with some state governments mandating the reintroduction of recovering COVID-19 patients back into nursing home facilities, and the perfect storm came into being. The Washington Post reports that according to the best estimates, about half of COVID-19 deaths have been nursing home residents. Currently, that half represents more than 52,500 of our senior population.

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that according to two studies, nursing home residents who are dying from COVID-19 on average could have expected to live for another decade. Even the more senior residents, 90 and older, with multiple ailments, are losing more than one year of life. These studies challenge the perception that the coronavirus tends to kill elderly people who were likely to die soon anyhow.

A New Perspective on Elder Care

The coronavirus pandemic is forcing us to take a hard look at where our loved one should receive care if care at home is not a safe option. As the number of nursing home deaths continues to increase, the news media is finding it harder than ever to gloss over the unpalatable reality of these deaths.

Now more than ever it is important for families to come together when a decision must be made about a loved one’s care. We help families discuss options for care and how to plan to pay for appropriate care. If you’d like to discuss your particular situation, please don’t hesitate to contact us. Please contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700 with any questions.

Estate Planning, Healthcare

You got the COVID-19 Vaccine, Now What?

Eligibility to receive the COVID-19 vaccine is becoming more and more widespread. According to the medical community, vaccinated individuals are significantly less likely to contract COVID-19; however, they may pose a health risk to others. What then is appropriate behavior for vaccinated Americans when considering the health of others? For the moment, not much has changed.

First of all, experts have told us that the COVID-19 vaccines take at least two weeks from receiving the second dose (or the single dose of Johnson and Johnson) to build up your immune response. The Pfizer vaccine offers 95 percent efficacy, while the Moderna vaccine provides 94 percent efficacy, so you are highly resistant to COVID-19 but not completely immune. According to MarketWatch, Dr. Gregory Poland, infectious disease expert and director of the Mayo Clinic’s Vaccine Research Group in Rochester, Minnesota, the .9 percent difference in efficacy rates is “meaningless.” However, according to preliminary data, those who are vaccinated may still contract coronavirus though, they are more likely to be asymptomatic. In the same MarketWatch post, Dr. Thomas Russo, chief of infectious disease, University at Buffalo in New York, says, “… it’s not clear whether those vaccinated people would be able to pass it to others.” We are still in a time of great uncertainty regarding this pandemic.

There is a low risk of infection when socializing with other fully vaccinated individuals; however, most experts believe it will take months to achieve herd immunity as a nation. Herd immunity occurs when a large enough percentage of the population develops long-lasting immunity through naturally occurring infection resistance or vaccinations to a particular virus or disease.

Should you visit your local grandparent or other older relative now that you have the vaccine? Dr. Russo told MarketWatch if both you and your loved one are fully vaccinated, “the benefits of the visit will outweigh these small risks that they could have of developing a severe case of coronavirus.” The unprecedented rates of social isolation of the American elderly have taken a huge toll on their physical, mental, and emotional well-being. If you and your loved one have been fully vaccinated, make arrangements to meet safely.

The medical community speculates that a vaccination rate of 70 to 80 percent can bring about herd immunity in the US, but we are just beginning the nation’s vaccination journey. The advent of open borders and easing air travel restrictions from other countries continues to provide challenges. In the future, you might need to present a negative COVID-19 test to cross international borders. Currently, those Americans returning from Mexico must now meet this requirement before entering the US. The “slow the spread” protocols remain in place even though you are fully vaccinated.

Once you are fully vaccinated your way of life may not change for a while. It is still important to reach out to friends and loved ones who may still be suffering from feelings of isolation and/or depression. You may be able to visit a loved one in a care facility once you are fully vaccinated. And if you haven’t already, now is a great time to think about your future health, and to make sure you have the correct legal documents in place in case you are unable to make decisions due to illness or incapacity in the future. We would be happy to speak to you about what documents you should be thinking about, including a health care directive, living will, or other documents specific to your wishes and desires. If the past year has taught us anything, it is to expect the unexpected and plan accordingly. We can help!

If you have questions or would like to discuss your personal situation, please don’t hesitate to contact us. Please contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.

Estate Planning, Healthcare

Planning and Preserving Quality of Life

As lawyers prepare powers-of-attorney documents so that when our clients can no longer act for themselves, the documents will convey on other trusted people the authority to act on our clients’ behalf.

But when it comes to actually using those documents at the time of a health-care crisis, clear and powerful documents are just the beginning. The decision-points can (and must) be put down on paper in advance, but when it comes to end-of-life situations, the clarity on which we lawyers thrive can be very hard to find.

Sitting in her lawyer’s office, the client may have been quite certain about health-care decisions. She does not want her life prolonged by a battery of aggressive treatments, where these would not preserve her quality of life. She does not want blood transfusions, dialysis, repeated courses of antibiotics and chemotherapy, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or breathing and feeding tubes. She does not want to die inert in the ICU, surrounded by machines and strangers. She wants to die at home, surrounded by loved ones, at a time when she retains presence of mind to make her peace.

But that goal doesn’t just happen from wishing it and stating it. It happens with additional careful preparation for the realities. As the end of life approaches, the clarity we lawyers enjoy can be elusive. When a person gets a prognosis of two to five years (maybe), where, along that continuum, would be the time to start declining aggressive treatment? When there’s always one more intervention that may (or may not) produce a good result? When one decision could create an ever-widening array of complications? When, step by step, the patient becomes less and less able to exercise autonomy, and where treatment decisions by caregivers are not in line with the care the patient was clear about when she was sitting in the lawyer’s office?

No matter how clear the powers-of-attorney documents, with all these imponderables, the patient can end up in a situation many miles away from what she wanted. And there’s no possible do-over.

Powerful and clear power-of-attorney documents are an essential first step and we lawyers are glad to take care of that part. Beyond that, though, thorough preparation is essential.

Consider that the best result may be one that cares for comfort right now, in the moment. The question is not necessarily about how long life can be prolonged. The question may be, rather, how comfort can be maintained – in this moment, and then the next moment, and the next. The question is how life can be made better right now. Watch a video by palliative-care physician B.J. Miller, on why this is so important, here.

Make concrete plans. These include specifying what you want to happen if you’re no longer able to live independently; choosing wisely whom you want to act for you, to make sure your plans will be followed; being ready with your health-care documents before you find yourself deposited in the emergency room or ICU; and seeking the reassurance that your loved ones will be cared-for when you’re no longer there. Judy MacDonald Johnson has prepared simple, forthright worksheets to help with this process, here.  She speaks about these worksheets in this moving video.

There is no doubt that the process in safeguarding quality of life at the end of it is possibly the most challenging of all. But if that process can create as much pleasure as possible through an extremely difficult time of life, and if forthrightly engaging in that process would facilitate a passing more in line with what we would envision, the worth of the process will be felt. The transition will be smoother and more meaningful for the dying person, and a kinder legacy will be left behind for those who accompany us on this journey.

If you have questions or would like to discuss your personal situation, please don’t hesitate to contact us. Please contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.

Elder Law, Healthcare

Creating an effective COVID-19 Vaccine for Seniors is a Challenge

Older Americans, who are the most at risk of COVID-19, are the least likely demographic to respond well to a vaccine. A vaccine shot works by fooling the body into believing it has been infected with a virus, thereby prompting its immune system to fight the intruding pathogen by making antibodies. Unfortunately, as we age, antibody production weakens, part of the process known as immunosenescence. A compromised immune system makes older adults more susceptible to viral and bacterial infections. The Wall Street Journal reports that 90 percent of flu deaths in the US every year are people over the age of 65.

What’s age got to do with the COVID-19 Vaccine?

The thymus, located center of your chest just below the neckline between the lungs, is a major source of pathogen fighting T-cells. Some of these specialized cells help the immune system make additional defenses against infection called antibodies. As we age, the thymus production of adaptable T-cells is depleted as the thymus fills with fatty tissue. The result is an old immune system that is ill-equipped to fight off new viruses. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) posted a July 17 analysis of more than 50,000 COVID-19 deaths in the US, identifying that 80 percent were people age 65 or more.

An aging thymus also complicates the development of a COVID-19 vaccine. A vaccine’s design provides instructions to our immune system, which T-cells help to guide appropriately. However, the thymus has exhausted most of its reserve T-cells that adapt to recognize unknown pathogens by the age of 50; thus, the ability to “train” other immune cells to fight is lost. Many vaccines rely on the skill sets of fully functional T-cells.

A Shift from Traditional Methods of Developing Vaccines

Traditionally, the biopharmaceutical vaccine market has concentrated efforts on childhood vaccines. Martin Friede, a coordinator for vaccine and product and delivery research with the World Health Organization (WHO), states, “Up until very recently most of the focus of the vaccine community has been on saving lives of young children. The people who need the vaccine the most may actually be the people in whom the vaccine might not work.” Friede further comments that it isn’t solely about the thymus as individual vitality can translate into different vaccine responses. Some older people may be off to play a round of golf while others may be too frail to walk unaided.

Deputy director of clinical research for the Institute of Vaccine Safety at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Dr. Kawsar Talaat, echoes Friede’s sentiments, “We hadn’t been designing vaccines for the elderly for a long time.” Dr. Talaat is helping to facilitate coronavirus vaccine developers to test their shots in older adults. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is also working with drug and biotech companies easing restrictions for experimental vaccines to be tested earlier during clinical trials on older adults.

Updates on Testing COVID-19 Vaccine Options

The New York biopharmaceutical giant Pfizer is currently conducting tests for potential COVID-19 vaccines in older people. The company is studying whether increasing the vaccine dosage could better protect the elderly as higher doses in existing flu vaccines make them more effective in older populations. At Moderna Therapeutics, results from a phase-one trial of its novel mRNA vaccine are in; however, a second phase two trial is being conducted specifically for adults age 55 and older. Many biotech and pharmaceutical companies are eager to be the first to introduce a successful FDA approved COVID-19 vaccine.

If the development of a COVID-19 vaccine specifically for the elderly remains elusive, scientists are hopeful that immunizing others around them can make a difference. Vaccinating children, health care workers, and potentially silent coronavirus carriers, could create enough herd immunity and would lower the risk of older people becoming infected. Sometimes it is possible to protect a vulnerable group by targeting other groups around them. Meanwhile, the work continues to find a workable COVID-19 vaccine for the most vulnerable Americans, the elderly.

We help seniors and their families deal with challenges around appropriate care and how to pay for it. If you would like to discuss your situation with us, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

If you’d like to discuss your particular situation, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Please contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700 with any questions.

Healthcare

Virtual Care: The Changing Face of Telemedicine

Telemedicine is the digital information distribution of healthcare-related services. Not long-ago telemedicine was an innovative practice, primarily a supplement to hospitals’ information strategy managing patient care and their data more efficiently. During the coronavirus pandemic and its associated urgent healthcare needs, hospitals and medical offices are making telehealth capabilities more available than ever before. Long-distance patient and clinician contact, advice, reminders, care, education, intervention, monitoring, and remote admissions have become the norm.

Increasing Shift to Virtual Medical Care

The push for comprehensive virtual medical care quickly without a standardized platform has left many healthcare facilities struggling to meet demand with technological data integrity and consistent user interface. Just as individual’s panic led to purchasing toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and other essential household items creating shortages, hospitals “pandemic-purchased” telehealth solutions to ride out the crisis led to a hodgepodge of tech solutions. This situation led to medical information security breaches, dropped call and video conferencing, poor audio and video quality, and distorted or incorrect information relayed to patients and health insurance companies alike.

Patients who were sheltering in place and rather fearful at the outset of the pandemic were initially forgiving of technological glitches. Today, however, patients have higher expectations of telemedicine and seek seamless experiences. Patients are also taking advantage of the ability to test-drive options from home, exploring physician expertise, availability, disposition, and price point before committing to a particular doctor, health care practitioner, or hospital facility. Additionally, patients are enjoying the experience and are now more likely to seek virtual care. It turns out that a patient using telehealth is more likely to adhere to prescription and wellness regimes, which is an advantage to public health overall. On average, telemedicine saves a patient more than 90 minutes otherwise wasted in commuting to an appointment and waiting to be seen by a doctor.

Telemedicine Being Embraced by Clinics and Hospitals

Clinics and hospitals are also embracing the benefits of telemedicine. Virtual medicine has played a vital role in quickly flattening the curve by getting to as many patients as possible without compromising social distancing and urgent care only protocols. Patients with chronic conditions and other non-urgent care, including routine follow-ups, can still engage with their physicians, allowing medical care, decreased patient anxiety, and maintaining facility reputation through patient retention. This continuity of care is essential, especially for urgent non-COVID-19 related health issues.

Health care facilities and medical professionals are now able to reach a new demographic of patients through telemedicine, particularly those in rural areas or those who list time, convenience, and proximity as barriers to making an initial consultation. Fully 76 percent of hospitals now employ telemedicine services, and two-thirds of patients report a willingness to use telehealth in the future, even after the pandemic ends.

Telemedicine Saves Time and Money

Telemedicine also yields significant savings of time and money for healthcare organizations and patients. An average in-office visit is 121 minutes, including 101 minutes of commute and waiting time. Therefore, a patient is only experiencing about 20 minutes of interaction with their doctor. A full one-third of patients have left a doctor’s office because the wait was too long. Telemedicine reduces wait times, no-shows, and cancellations saving time and money. There are also flexible insurance benefits to take advantage of when using telehealth.

What Telemedicine Platforms and Service are Right for You?

How can you best assess your hospital or doctor’s office telemedicine platform and service? Medicaleconomics.com cites four questions that you must ask to find the service best suited to your needs. Telemedicine can vary drastically among categories such as compliance, quality, convenience, and features, so keep the following in mind as you search for the right fit.

  1. Look for easy to use technology. As a patient, you should have no trouble downloading and accessing a telehealth app. It should be easy to use and intuitive and be available on multiple digital devices such as a tablet, phone, or laptop.
  2. Is the software provide HIPPA compliant and secure? Privacy issues are a major concern when using non-healthcare specific solutions like Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, and others. Ensure your telehealth provider keeps your sensitive information digitally safe.
  3. Make sure that the platform provides quality audio and video transmission. You will feel more comfortable, and your session will yield the best results knowing that communication is clear. Miscommunication can lead to misdiagnosis and have tragic health consequences.
  4. Shop around before committing. Read online reviews and speak to others about their telehealth experiences. Finding reputable healthcare facilities doesn’t stop with a board-certified physician. Facility reputation can be the difference between ease of interaction, diagnosis, and follow-up regarding insurance.

Embracing telemedicine can open your healthcare to expert physicians, save you time, and maintain the significant benefit of social distancing. Look for a healthcare organization with the right telemedicine framework for you. It will help you stay current with your routine medical care despite the coronavirus pandemic.

If you have questions or would like to discuss your personal situation, please don’t hesitate to contact us. Please contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.