Appl Clin Inform. 2021 May;12(3):445-458. doi: 10.1055/s-0041-1730026. Epub 2021 Jun 9.
BACKGROUND: The COVID-19 pandemic led to dramatic increases in telemedicine use to provide outpatient care without in-person contact risks. Telemedicine increases options for health care access, but a “digital divide” of disparate access may prevent certain populations from realizing the benefits of telemedicine.
OBJECTIVES: The study aimed to understand telemedicine utilization patterns after a widespread deployment to identify potential disparities exacerbated by expanded telemedicine usage.
METHODS: We performed a cross-sectional retrospective analysis of adults who scheduled outpatient visits between June 1, 2020 and August 31, 2020 at a single-integrated academic health system encompassing a broad range of subspecialties and a large geographic region in the Upper Midwest, during a period of time after the initial surge of COVID-19 when most standard clinical services had resumed. At the beginning of this study period, approximately 72% of provider visits were telemedicine visits. The primary study outcome was whether a patient had one or more video-based visits, compared with audio-only (telephone) visits or in-person visits only. The secondary outcome was whether a patient had any telemedicine visits (video-based or audio-only), compared with in-person visits only.
RESULTS: A total of 197,076 individuals were eligible (average age = 46 years, 56% females). Increasing age, rural status, Asian or Black/African American race, Hispanic ethnicity, and self-pay/uninsured status were significantly negatively associated with having a video visit. Digital literacy, measured by patient portal activation status, was significantly positively associated with having a video visit, as were Medicaid or Medicare as payer and American Indian/Alaskan Native race.
CONCLUSION: Our findings reinforce previous evidence that older age, rural status, lower socioeconomic status, Asian race, Black/African American race, and Hispanic/Latino ethnicity are associated with lower rates of video-based telemedicine use. Health systems and policies should seek to mitigate such barriers to telemedicine when possible, with efforts such as digital literacy outreach and equitable distribution of telemedicine infrastructure.