APR 13, 2022 11:30 AM PDT

Does Telehealth Help Alleviate Health Inequities?

WRITTEN BY: Ryan Vingum

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth has become an exponentially more popular choice for people seeking to receive care from a provider when nonessential care was put on hold. Even prior to the pandemic, though, telehealth had been steadily rising in popularity. Research suggests that between 2014 and 2018, the number of insurance claim lines for telehealth services increased about 1,400%, signaling a massive jump in utilization.

A key aspect of telehealth that has been heralded by proponents is the ability of telehealth to increase access to care and alleviate healthcare access inequalities, particularly for poorer and rural people.

But has this been the case? Has telehealth accomplished what we’d hoped it could? Researchers at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business, School of Medicine, and Boston Medical Center (BMC) suggest that the answer is a complicated one, labeling telehealth a “double-edged sword.” 

A big part of telehealth’s uncertain role in alleviating healthcare inequities involves the “digital divide.” Specifically, researchers identify a type of “digital redlining” happening in telehealth, where telehealth, despite its barrier-breaking potential, inevitably becomes a barrier to accessing care that further perpetuates care inequity. 

In a recent paper published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, researchers outline their own experiences with patients as well as data about their patients’ experiences accessing healthcare. The data suggests two additional challenges to telehealth’s equalizing role: a patient’s digital literacy, or fluency, and a patient’s ability to advocate for themselves. Essentially, researchers concluded that telehealth on its own isn’t enough. Without robust infrastructure to support patients in the use of telehealth services, telehealth may just become another cog in the machine and further perpetuate access inequality. 

In response to these challenges, researchers outline a framework for mitigating some of the downsides of telehealth in perpetuating healthcare inequities. Specifically, researchers suggest that policy makers can start investing in healthy literacy education, digital literacy education, and patient self advocacy. 

Sources: Science Daily; Journal of General Internal Medicine; Boston University; FAIR Health

About the Author
Professional Writing
Science writer and editor, with a focus on simplifying complex information about health, medicine, technology, and clinical drug development for a general audience.
You May Also Like
MAY 11, 2022
Technology
Tasting Robot Chef FTW!
MAY 11, 2022
Tasting Robot Chef FTW!
Let’s face it, robots are going to take over the world. But before these mechanical servants round us all up and p ...
MAY 18, 2022
Earth & The Environment
Landslides can have a major impact on glacier melt and movement
MAY 18, 2022
Landslides can have a major impact on glacier melt and movement
When we think of glaciers, horrifying images of them receding into the water because of climate change immediately come ...
MAY 22, 2022
Space & Astronomy
Opinion: Renaming Earth's Moon to 'Luna'
MAY 22, 2022
Opinion: Renaming Earth's Moon to 'Luna'
I’m going to get right to it: “Earth’s Moon” or simply “The Moon” isn’t a real ...
MAY 26, 2022
Earth & The Environment
Its All Downhill From Here - Why Coastal Cities Around the World are Sinking
MAY 26, 2022
Its All Downhill From Here - Why Coastal Cities Around the World are Sinking
It is no secret that some coastlines have seen extreme change over the last several thousand years of human existence. W ...
MAY 27, 2022
Space & Astronomy
Astronomers Discover Over 700 Ultracool Dwarfs
MAY 27, 2022
Astronomers Discover Over 700 Ultracool Dwarfs
A new study in Astronomy & Astrophysics published the largest catalog of ultracool dwarfs to date. The team at the N ...
JUN 10, 2022
Space & Astronomy
Why Uranus and Neptune Are Different Colors
JUN 10, 2022
Why Uranus and Neptune Are Different Colors
The planets Uranus and Neptune are possibly the least explored planetary objects in our solar system. Due to their incre ...
Loading Comments...