Transitioning to Telehealth During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Patient Perspectives and Attendance at an HIV Clinic in San Francisco

AIDS Patient Care STDS. 2021 Jul;35(7):249-254. doi: 10.1089/apc.2021.0075.


Approximately 1.2 million people are living with HIV in the United States, with 16,000 in San Francisco. Many HIV-positive individuals have difficulty maintaining follow-up clinic visits under normal circumstances, and this is complicated by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic as many institutions transition to a telehealth-focused model of care to maintain patient and provider safety. However, it was unknown how telehealth would impact patient attendance and perceptions about their care, particularly in populations at high risk of appointment nonattendance. To quantify the impact of telehealth on retention in care for a vulnerable HIV-infected population and to identify patient perspectives of telehealth and its effect on appointment attendance, we studied patients at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) 360 Wellness Center, an HIV primary care clinic in urban San Francisco, California. Anonymous surveys were conducted to assess patient perceptions of telehealth, and 21% of patients sent surveys responded. Appointment attendance rates for all visits were analyzed before and after the shelter-in-place order in San Francisco on March 16, 2020. With the transition to telehealth, the overall nonattendance rate decreased by ∼3%. Most common perceived strengths of telehealth included convenience and safety, whereas disadvantages included technical barriers and unfamiliarity. Despite barriers and disadvantages listed by patients, a majority are willing to attend telehealth visits, as 80.5% of respondents reported being equally or more likely to attend telehealth visits. This is a critical finding during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond; we believe that telehealth can improve appointment attendance for vulnerable populations who often face barriers to receiving health care.

PMID:34242090 | DOI:10.1089/apc.2021.0075