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Growth in Telemedicine is Great, But Let’s Make Sure Access is Equal

Growth in Telemedicine is Great, But Let’s Make Sure Access is Equal

Feb. 16, 2023
A variety of groups, for different reasons, had lower rates of telemedicine use.

As EHS professionals determine how to offer the best access to healthcare for employees, there are some considerations that might not be obvious.

First the obvious part. As the CDC posted on its site in October about telemedicine usage rates, it said the following: ”Although telehealth is generally well-accepted by patients and clinicians, it is not without challenges. Limited access to the Internet or devices such as smartphones, tablets, or computers, and lack of familiarity with technology might be potential barriers for some patients."

What isn’t as obvious is that usage differs based on other differences.

A new study in The Journal of the American Medical Association that looked at around 150,000 patient cases, found that there are large population differences when it comes to accessing telemedicine.

The study concludes that:

Patients older than 55, Asian, white, without comorbidities, male, on Medicaid or were non-English speaking had lower rates of telemedicine use.

In addition, certain groups were less likely to use video-based telemedicine even if this did not hold true to phone-based telemedicine. These groups included patients who were older, female, Black, Latinx, or of lower socioeconomic status.

It is these findings that cause the authors to call for reform in how we continue forward with using telemedicine.

As we develop and refine our telemedicine practice, we must intentionally design our system to mitigate inequity. Engagement with community members from vulnerable populations to design and tailor connected health technologies is essential to ensure accessibility for all patients.

As we build our telemedical health system, which is likely here to stay, a new “normal” must prioritize the needs of those who have been historically marginalized to ensure that health equity is achieved.

Recognizing that not all populations are the same and therefore have different needs seems to be a theme highlighted throughout 2022. And it seems that many organizations have agreed to make improvements in expanding their viewpoints, so I’m quite hopeful that will be true for telemedicine as well.

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