Congress Must Act to Protect Virtual Care Access & Continue Improvements to Racial Health Care Equity
A patient’s zip code or race should not determine health outcomes, life expectancy, nor access to care, but that is the unfortunate reality for many patients. Consequently, improving health equity is of the utmost importance to ensure all patients have access to the care they need. Thankfully, telehealth has proven to be an impactful tool for reducing these disparities.
TELEHEALTH REDUCES BARRIERS TO CARE
While broadband investment is needed to address the digital divide, telehealth helps eliminate travel time and distance and allows clinicians and specialists to serve the current unmet needs of underserved communities, communities of color, seniors, and hard to access parts of rural America. In fact, individuals residing in low-income regions accounted for 47 percent of all telehealth visits in January and February 2020 and 50 percent of all visits in April 2020.
INCREASED VIRTUAL CARE ACCESS IMPROVES APPOINTMENT COMPLETION
Historically, Black patients have experienced increased obstacles to care compared to non-Black patients, resulting in lower rates of appointment completion. According to research from the University of Pennsylvania, the implementation of telehealth increased Black patients’ visit completion rates to 70 percent in June of 2020, up from 52 percent in January of 2020. This increased accessibility due to telehealth greatly diminished the racial gap in follow-up appointment completion.
PATIENTS OF COLOR RELY ON TELEHEALTH TO RECEIVE CARE
A study by researchers at Penn Medicine found that Black patients used telehealth services one-third of their visits, compared with non-Black patients who used telehealth approximately one-quarter of their visits. This study also revealed that completed primary care visits rose from approximately 60 percent among Black patients pre-COVID-19 to over 80 percent in 2020.
HISPANIC & LOW-INCOME PATIENTS WERE AMONG THOSE MOST LIKELY TO UTILIZE TELEHEALTH DURING THE PANDEMIC
A Kaiser Permanente Southern California study found that, of their more than 4.5 million members, the largest increase in telehealth use pre- and post-pandemic was among Hispanic and low-income individuals.
PATIENTS RELY ON TELEHEALTH TO OBTAIN SAFE, COST-EFFECTIVE, AND ACCESSIBLE HEALTH CARE. CONGRESS MUST ACT TO PROTECT IT.
Virtual care has helped greatly reduce barriers to care and close the racial health care equity gap. We cannot and should not let these benefits end when the Public Health Emergency concludes. Congress must enact permanent telehealth protections so all patients have equitable access to health care that they need and deserve.
ABOUT TELEHEALTH ACCESS FOR AMERICA
Telehealth Access for America (TAFA) is a public education campaign supported by leaders in health care committed to better care, expanded patient choice, and protecting access to critical telehealth services. Learn more and take action today at www.telehealthaccessforamerica.org.