The growing necessity of digitally connecting seniors to health care services has launched a debate on the pros and cons of expanding coverage of telehealth and telemedicine services. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have heightened the realization that access to medical care — both doctors and health facilities — can be cut off just when seniors may need it most. But even though digital communications and telemedicine can help to bridge this gap, many seniors don’t even know whether their health plan offers it — and that’s if they are digitally connected enough to access it.

Business Insider reports on a survey from HealthMine, which finds that 57 percent of Medicare health plan members aged 65+ say they are unsure if their health plan offers telemedicine; another 31 percent say that telemedicine is not offered by their plan.

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The growing necessity of digitally connecting seniors to health care services, the report says, has launched a debate on the pros and cons of expanding coverage of telehealth and telemedicine services under Medicare Parts A and B. The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission has been mandated by Congress to study the use of telehealth services; it is due to report findings on the matter by March 15, 2018.

Of course, telemedicine isn’t going to work if Medicare plan members aren’t digitally connected. And that could be an issue, since the survey also finds that 79 percent of seniors do not have easy access to their electronic medical records. And that isn’t even taking into account the difficulty of accessing electronic records in the event of power outages caused by such crisis events as Irma and Harvey.

It could be an uphill battle anyway for a number of seniors, since the vast majority of Medicare plan members indicate in the survey that when it comes to their communication preferences, 48 percent would rather deal with their plan via either voice or phone. Just 31 percent prefer digital communication and 21 percent are holding onto snail mail as their preferred method.

Still, “These hurricanes have underscored the importance of every person being digitally connected to their health,” Bryce Williams, president and CEO of HealthMine, says in a statement. Williams adds, “We are working hand in hand with health plans to accelerate digital processes and analytics.”