Could Telehealth Improve Equity During the COVID-19 Pandemic?
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many physicians and health care systems have shifted to providing care via telehealth as much as possible. Although necessary to control spread of the virus and preserve personal protective equipment, this shift highlights existing disparities in access and care. Patients without the skills and tools to access telehealth services may increase their risk of exposure by seeking care in person or may delay care entirely. We know that patients need internet access, devices capable of visual communication, and the skills to use these devices to experience the full benefits of telehealth, yet we also know that disparities are present in each of these areas. Currently, federal programs have given physicians greater flexibility in providing care remotely and have expanded internet access for vulnerable patients to promote telehealth services. However, these changes are temporary and it is uncertain which will remain when the pandemic is over. Family medicine physicians have an important role to play in identifying and addressing these disparities and facilitating more equitable care moving forward.
Authors: Cynthia J Sieck, Mark Rastetter, Ann Scheck McAlearney