Telehealth, Key Part of Pandemic-Era Care, Should Be More Accessible, Study Finds
A study by the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Institute found that since COVID-19 emerged, language barriers have prevented Latino and Asian patients in Los Angeles from making full use of telehealth services. The research also revealed that Black and white patients had greater ease with video visits — and that some older patients and those with limited access to technology, particularly Latinos, relied on family members to help them access telehealth services. The study is based on data from a Los Angeles County health care system: Researchers analyzed patient visits from January through December 2020 and conducted surveys and interviews with 39 health care providers at seven of the health system’s clinics between August 2021 and April 2022. The findings underscore the need for care providers to take into account the roles that patients’ race, ethnicity, age and primary language play in how telehealth services are adopted. This study is timely because in July 2022, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill to extend Medicare reimbursements for telehealth visits through the end of 2024, and the U.S. Senate is currently considering legislation that would direct more funding for telehealth visits to Medicare beneficiaries. The study’s authors recommend that health care systems and providers address the digital literacy and technology barriers that patients face by investing in programs that provide technology support, both in person and remotely, to people who have trouble navigating telehealth on their own. Further, they urge providers to support efforts to allocate technology devices and internet services to their patients.