Access to telehealth is a digital equity issue

I’ve been seeing an increase in articles on telehealth these days and they usually report that access to technology increases comfort and use of telehealth and that leads to easier access to healthcare – for doctor and patient. Rheumatology Advisor reports

For patients to participate in telehealth encounters, they have to use a number of proprietary, health system-specific portals and platforms. That can be challenging for many older adults and minority groups. Effective virtual care depends on digital fluency, meaning they need to be able to engage in all aspects of digital technologies, from accessing the internet to navigating telehealth applications and performing basic troubleshooting. Many people cannot do this, creating significant barriers to care and telehealth disparities for a large segment of the population.

Boston researchers say the technology has the potential to reduce health disparities, but it also is exacerbating structural inequities. “Telehealth is here to stay, and has the potential to actually improve care outcomes, enhance the patient experience, reduce costs, and address health care inequities,” said Rebecca G. Mishuris, MD, MPH, an assistant professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine and Chief Medical Information Officer of the Boston Medical Center Health System in Massachusetts. “This, of course, will only be realized if we can address equity in engagement with telehealth, and fully incorporate it into a holistic care delivery model that employs both virtual and in-person care.”

Some of the numbers…

At her institution, which is a safety net hospital, 21% of Black/African American patients, 20% of Hispanic/Latino patients, and 22% of White patients reported lacking access to a connected device with a camera or microphone. The study on telehealth disparities, published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, also showed that 67% of White patients opted to schedule their telehealth visits by video compared with only 60% of Black and Latino patients.

This entry was posted in Healthcare, Research by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (blandinonbroadband.org), hosts a radio show on MN music (mostlyminnesota.com), supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota (elimstrongtowershelters.org) and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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