Older, nonwhite patients access telemedicine significantly less among patients overall

A new study out of Penn Medicine finds minorities, older populations, non-English speakers, and those with lower incomes face inequities in accessing telemedicine care.

Historically, the United States has been relatively slow to broadly adopt telemedicine, largely emphasizing in-person visits. However, the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in the spring of 2020, necessitated increased use of virtual or phone call visits, even prompting the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services to relax some of its regulations, primarily for video-based telemedicine. These large scale changes made telemedicine exponentially more popular than it had been even at the start of the calendar year.

Person with a laptop on their lap talking with a doctor via telemedicine portal.

But while this was a positive for those who otherwise would have delayed or foregone care due to the pandemic, a new study led by researchers in the Perelman School of Medicine, published in JAMA Network Open, uncovered significant inequities, particularly by race and ethnicity, socioeconomic status, age, and when someone needed to use a language other than English.

“As we begin to establish novel ways of caring for our patients via telemedicine, it is critical that we make the foundation of this new way forward equitable,” says the study’s senior author, Srinath Adusumalli, an assistant professor of cardiovascular medicine and the University of Pennsylvania Health System assistant chief medical information officer for connected health. “We hope that regulatory and payer organizations recognize potential inequities that could be introduced by policies they create—which might include not reimbursing for telephone visits, and potentially leading to lack of access to care for particular patient populations, specifically those disproportionately affected by events like the COVID-19 crisis.”

This story is by Frank Otto. Read more at Penn Medicine News.