New Kaiser Permanente research from Southern California published September 1, 2021, in Journal of Medical Internet Research showed that Latino or low-income patients had the largest percentage increase in use of telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Increases in telehealth visits during the COVID-19 pandemic varied across age, sex, race, ethnicity, and household income groups, while decreases in outpatient visits were similar across all subgroups except age groups. The rate of combined outpatient and telehealth visits in the Latino, Black, and low-income groups returned to pre-pandemic levels by October 2020.
“The use of virtual care during the pandemic shows us it is a potentially promising way to reduce health care disparities even after the pandemic ends,” said Lei Qian, PhD, a research scientist with the Kaiser Permanente Southern California Department of Research & Evaluation. “The study also showed that while seniors had the highest telehealth visit rate before and during the pandemic, they had the smallest percentage increase in telehealth visits during the pandemic among all age groups, suggesting that barriers may exist for many seniors.”
The study was conducted at Kaiser Permanente in Southern California, which serves more than 4.7 million racially, ethnically, and socioeconomically diverse members at its 15 hospitals and 234 medical offices. Researchers studied the period of January 5 to October 31, 2020, and the corresponding period in 2019 to determine the change in outpatient visits and telehealth visits. Weekly rates of outpatient and telehealth visits by age, sex, race, ethnicity, and neighborhood-level median household income were calculated and compared before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Qian said she sees the popularity of telehealth continuing beyond the pandemic.
“Given the growing familiarity with new telehealth technologies, even as the COVID-19 pandemic wanes, patients likely will continue to pursue telehealth services beyond pre-pandemic levels,” she said.
Other authors on this study from the Kaiser Permanente Southern California Department of Research & Evaluation are Lina S. Sy, MPH; Vennis Hong, MPH; Sungching Glenn, MS; Denison S. Ryan, MPH; Kerresa Morrissette, MPH; and Stanley Xu, PhD. Steven J. Jacobsen, MD, PhD, formerly of the Department of Research & Evaluation also is a co-author.
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