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
OCT 13, 2022
Technology
Four-Legged Robots Allowed to Run in The Wild Thanks to New Algorithms
OCT 13, 2022
Four-Legged Robots Allowed to Run in The Wild Thanks to New Algorithms
In a recent study that will be presented at the 2022 International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS) i ...
OCT 18, 2022
Technology
Adding Scents to Virtual Reality Environments
OCT 18, 2022
Adding Scents to Virtual Reality Environments
Virtual reality has become an increasingly popular fixture in the popular imagination. Once thought of a sci-fi experien ...
OCT 25, 2022
Space & Astronomy
Detection of the Brightest Gamma-Ray Burst Ever
OCT 25, 2022
Detection of the Brightest Gamma-Ray Burst Ever
On October 9, 2022, telescopes detected one of the brightest gamma-ray bursts ever! A gamma-ray burst (GRB) is an extrem ...
NOV 02, 2022
Technology
e-Cigarettes Pose Cardiovascular Health Risks Similar to Regular Cigarettes, Study Finds
NOV 02, 2022
e-Cigarettes Pose Cardiovascular Health Risks Similar to Regular Cigarettes, Study Finds
e-Cigarettes quickly emerged as an alternative to traditional cigarettes. Many companies claimed that e-cigarettes, or v ...
NOV 02, 2022
Space & Astronomy
ESA's Solar Orbiter Captures Extraordinary Views of the Quiet Corona
NOV 02, 2022
ESA's Solar Orbiter Captures Extraordinary Views of the Quiet Corona
On October 12, 2022, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Solar Orbiter mission had its second close encounter with t ...
NOV 14, 2022
Space & Astronomy
Astronomers Have Discovered the Closest Black Hole to Earth
NOV 14, 2022
Astronomers Have Discovered the Closest Black Hole to Earth
Astronomers have discovered the closest known black hole to Earth. This historic discovery has been published in the Mon ...
Loading Comments...