Telemed J E Health. 2021 Apr 7. doi: 10.1089/tmj.2020.0525. Online ahead of print.
A unique and sudden need for virtual medical visits created by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has led to an unprecedented expansion of telemedicine across nearly all medical specialties in the United States. In addition to providing essential medical services during the pandemic, telemedicine has the potential to expand health care access to underserved populations by eliminating traditional barriers to care such as transportation needs, distance from specialty providers, and approved time off from work. However, the literature regarding telehealth accessibility for low-income, non-English-speaking, and minority patients remains limited. Through a cross-sectional analysis comparing 2019 clinic visits with 2020 telehealth visits at the UMass Memorial Medical Center, we demonstrate specialty-specific changes in patient demographics, including a younger population, fewer non-English-speaking patients, and a relative preservation of minority, Medicaid, and Medicare patients among telehealth visits in comparison to clinic visits. We also demonstrate that nonsurgical specialties had significantly lower no-show rates and the greatest number of telehealth visits. Overall, our findings highlight the potential shortcomings of telemedicine in servicing non-English-speaking patients, while maintaining that it is an important tool with the potential to improve access to health care, particularly in nonprocedural specialties.