Telemedicine became widespread during the pandemic, and that may have shifted patient views about using technology as way to communicate with their doctors, a new study suggests.
Certain groups, including Black patients and those with lower education levels, became especially more apt to use it.
"Our findings suggest that more Americans are becoming comfortable with telehealth and using video technology," said study author Dr. Shira Fischer, a physician scientist at RAND Corp., a nonprofit research organization.
"This is important because there are concerns that lack of access to or willingness to use video telehealth may exacerbate disparities in the delivery of high-quality health care," she said in an organization news release.
In the study, data was collected on 1,600 adults who participated in the RAND American Life Panel, completing surveys in February 2019, May 2020, August 2020 and March 2021. Participants answered questions about their use of telehealth and their attitudes toward the technology.
Willingness to use video telehealth increased overall from 51% in February 2019 to 62% in March 2021.
That willingness grew from 42% to 67% among Black adults and from 30% to 56% among adults with less than a high school education.
Lower trust of technology and lower rates of access to high-quality internet service may have been the reasons that some groups were less willing to engage with telehealth prior to the pandemic, the researchers noted.
In May 2020, about 12% of people reported having used telehealth since the beginning of the pandemic, which was more than three times the percentage who had reported having used it when asked in February 2019.
That increased to almost 20% by August 2020 and to 45% by March 2021.
Willingness to participate in video telehealth may have increased with exposure forced by the pandemic and with positive experiences, researchers found.
It may also have helped that telehealth was being offered by more providers.
"As telehealth establishes a more permanent place in the delivery of health care, it will be important to address sources of variation in patients' willingness to use video telehealth, to ensure equitable access to quality care," Fischer said.
The study noted differences between video and audio-only telehealth, the latter of which may not be as effective. Some insurance companies and other health care payers may not continue to reimburse for audio-only visits when the public health emergency ends.
The findings were published in the November issue of the journal Health Affairs.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has more on telehealth.
SOURCE: RAND Corp., news release, Nov. 7, 2022