With the steep increase in use of telehealth and video visits in the last few years, the reliance on technology-enabled medicine may heighten disparities in health care access.
Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the use of telemedicine has been increasing significantly. While telemedicine has the potential to increase access to care, many individuals with complex health and social needs may also experience challenges in using telemedicine or prefer in-person care. This survey of more than 600 veterans with complex health and social needs conducted prior to the pandemic analyzed their willingness, access, and ability to use telemedicine.
Nearly half of the respondents were unwilling to participate in video visits and about a quarter lacked the required technology. These populations tended to be older, less health literate, had worse health, lived in socially disadvantaged neighborhoods, and were African American.
Providers working with complex populations need to consider that although technology has been helpful to many in recent years, certain vulnerable populations may be less likely to engage or have the required access because of various barriers. Although this analysis was done prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, which changed the landscape of telehealth, the focus on disparities points to opportunities to improve access for populations less likely to engage.