A recent study conducted by the University of Houston (UH) College of Medicine has found that telemedicine use remains unbalanced across populations as a result of the digital divide and racial inequalities despite the continued use of virtual care during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, given telemedicine’s benefits, many communities are unable to use it because they lack access to resources like broadband.
The study includes information from 233,302 visits and 67,733 patients. Approximately a third of visits throughout the research period, which spanned from March 2020 to November 2020, were related to telemedicine. The remaining 2 thirds were in-person visits. The study’s findings indicated Researchers found that compared to White individuals, Black and Hispanic people were substantially less likely to participate in a telemedicine visit. According to a press release from the study’s lead author, Omolola Adepoju, PhD, a clinical associate professor at the UH College of Medicine, people of color were 35 percent and 51 percent less likely to use telehealth than ethnic minorities overall. The researchers believe that this is due to the digital divide between minorities.
In addition, the results showed that variables including age and distance from the clinic influenced the likelihood of telehealth use. 20.5 percent of appointments for individuals under the age of 18 involved telehealth, which is much less than the 26.3 and 27.9 percent of visits for those between the ages of 18 and 64 and 65 and older, respectively. With regards to distance from the clinic, researchers found that people are less inclined to participate in a telehealth visit the closer they are to a clinical facility. For instance, telehealth visits made up around 22.9% of all visits for patients who lived within 5 miles of a clinic. For individuals residing 50 miles or more from a location, that percentage increased to 34.9 percent.
However, the researchers did note the study’s limitations, such as the reality that all data originated from federally authorized health centers, where telehealth adoption faced a number of difficulties. Statistics derived from data collected during the COVID-19 pandemic might have also been biased.