Telemedicine May Improve Equity in Access to Primary Care
Here's one way in which the pandemic did not exacerbate healthcare disparities: A new study shows that telemedicine has closed the gap in access to primary care between Black and non-Black Americans.
The use of telemedicine boomed during the pandemic, so University of Pennsylvania researchers decided to examine how that affected Black patients' historically lower access to primary care.
"We looked through the entire year of 2020, not just the first half of the year when telemedicine was the only option for many people, and the appointment completion gap between Black and non-Black patients closed," said study senior author Dr. Krisda Chaiyachati, an assistant professor of medicine at Penn Medicine.
"Offering telemedicine, even though it was for a crisis, appears to have been a significant step forward toward addressing long-standing inequities in healthcare access," he said in a university news release.
The researchers analyzed data on visits by Black and non-Black patients (predominately Whites) to primary care providers in the Philadelphia area in 2019 and 2020. The study included about 1 million appointments each year.
Rates of completed primary care visits among Black patients rose from about 60% in 2019 to more than 80% in 2020, while rates among non-Blacks rose from about 70% to more than 80%.
"The specific time periods where we saw significant gains made by Black patients came when telemedicine was well-established in our health system," Chaiyachati said. "This does not appear to be a coincidence."