Telehealth’s Role In Breaking Down Care Barriers for Minority & Underserved Communities

Apr 29, 2024

This National Minority Health Month, we are recognizing telehealth’s critical value as a tool to break down historically intractable barriers to health care for underserved communities.

Studies have shown that Black and Hispanic/Latino individuals are more likely than White individuals to experience barriers in accessing timely medical care, citing obstacles such as long waiting times, inconvenient office hours, and lack of transportation. Telehealth helps eliminate these barriers, allowing patients from underserved communities to access care when and where it is convenient.

Language barriers are another recognized source of health inequity for ethnic minority communities whose health communication needs cannot often be adequately met. Telehealth translation services can help resolve this challenge by ensuring effective communication between providers and patients. 

Additionally, telehealth can make patients more comfortable receiving medical care in their own home and allow for a broader scope of physicians to choose from. Minority populations, especially those with unique cultural practices and beliefs, may face discrimination, stereotyping or a lack of understanding from health care providers, resulting in inadequate care, mistrust and reluctance to seek medical help in the future.

Access to more specialty care providers is also a benefit of telehealth that affects minority populations. Racial and ethnic minority groups experience higher rates of illness and death across a wide range of health conditions, including diabetes, hypertension, obesity, asthma, and heart disease, when compared to their White counterparts. Telehealth can make specialty care more accessible and convenient.

Telehealth not only eliminates obstacles historically underserved communities face in accessing healthcare, it also improves outcomes. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that from 2019 through 2021 telehealth access helped to increase Black patients’ primary care visit completion rate from 52 percent to 70 percent. Low-income racial and ethnic minority communities are at the greatest risk for challenges in accessing care. Telehealth is proven to help reduce these challenges.

Congress must take action now to permanently protect flexibilities that allow Medicare beneficiaries and other patients to access virtual care. Learn more about how Congress can act now to safeguard access to telehealth HERE.