ICYMI: Study Underscores Key Role of Telehealth in Bridging Health Care Disparities, Achieving Greater Health Equity

May 5, 2022

Analysis Finds Virtual Care Use Increased Among All Groups of Medicare Beneficiaries During Pandemic, Especially in Disadvantaged Communities

In case you missed it, Health Affairs recently published a study from researchers at Johns Hopkins University and Brigham and Women’s Hospital that underscores how telehealth can play a key role in bridging health care disparities to achieve greater health equity. The study finds that while telehealth use during the pandemic increased among all Medicare beneficiaries, the highest increase was in disadvantaged neighborhoods. 

The study, which analyzes more than 30 million Medicare fee-for-services claims reveals that, before temporary telehealth waivers were offered as part of the public health emergency declaration, only 0.42 percent of patients had at least one virtual care visit. Following the waiver extension, nearly 10 percent of patients had at least one virtual care visit, and individuals living in disadvantaged neighborhoods were most likely to utilize telehealth. 

The study also reveals that in the week following the original Emergency Health Waiver that extended telehealth coverage under Medicare, usage of telehealth increased significantly across all groups. The largest increase, however, was a 56-fold increase among individuals residing in disadvantaged neighborhoods.  Additionally, the research showed that telehealth access improved for all minority groups following the implementation of telehealth waivers during the Public Health Emergency. In response to this research, Elaine Khoong, assistant professor of medicine at the University of California San Francisco, cited that individuals using telehealth may also begin to gain access to care that was not previously being met by in-person healthcare, and increased access to telehealth may also reduce overall Medicare costs.

In a related article published in Health Affairs Jen Lau and Janine Knudsen, members of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene commented, “In the face of ongoing disparities, telemedicine has the potential to increase access to important health care services” due to the increased level of healthcare access that comes with telehealth coverage. 

This study highlights the need for lawmakers in Congress to permanently safeguard access to virtual care as an indispensable tool for improving access to care and health equity. 

Read more on the Health Affairs study HERE.

Learn more about how Congress can act to permanently protect telehealth access HERE.