Telehealth in cancer care during COVID-19: disparities by age, race/ethnicity, and residential status

J Cancer Surviv. 2021 Nov 20:1-8. doi: 10.1007/s11764-021-01133-4. Online ahead of print.


PURPOSE: Telehealth may remain an integral part of cancer survivorship care after the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. While telehealth may reduce travel/waiting times and costs for many patients, it may also create new barriers that could exacerbate care disparities in historically underserved populations, manifesting as differences in overall care participation, and in differential video versus phone use for telehealth.

METHODS: We reviewed visits by cancer survivors between January and December 2020 at a designated cancer center in Minnesota. We used descriptive statistics, data visualization, and generalized estimating equation logistic regression models to compare visit modalities and trends over time by age, urban/rural status, and race/ethnicity.

RESULTS: Among 159,301 visits, including 33,242 telehealth visits, older and rural-dwelling individuals were underrepresented in telehealth compared with in-person care. Non-Hispanic White individuals, those aged 18-69 years, and urban residents used video for > 50% of their telehealth visits. In contrast, those aged ≥ 70 years, rural residents, and most patient groups of color used video for only 33-43% of their telehealth visits. Video use increased with time for everyone, but relative differences in telehealth modalities persisted. Visits of Black/African American patients temporarily fell in spring/summer 2020.

CONCLUSIONS: Our findings underscore reduced uptake of telehealth, especially video, among potentially vulnerable patient populations. Future research should evaluate reasons for differential telehealth utilization and whether visit modality (in-person versus video versus phone) affects cancer outcomes.

IMPLICATIONS FOR CANCER SURVIVORS: A long-term cancer care model with integrated telehealth elements needs to account for specific barriers for vulnerable populations.

PMID:34800257 | PMC:PMC8605776 | DOI:10.1007/s11764-021-01133-4