New HHS Data Highlights Telehealth Disparities

A new report from the HHS’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation found that although telehealth use remains drastically elevated from pre-pandemic levels, access challenges are equally persistent.

The analysis stems from the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, which had a total of 808k US adult respondents between April and October 2021.

Overall, 23.1% of respondents reported using telehealth over the past month, with use levels similar among most demographic subgroups.

  • The lowest telehealth use was among those who were uninsured (9.4%) and young adults between the age of 18 and 24 (17.6%).
  • The highest telehealth use was among those with Medicaid (29.3%), Black patients (26.8%), and those earning less than $25k (26.7%).

The most significant disparities began to emerge when examining the modality used by different subgroups.

  • The share of telehealth visits by video was highest (meaning the share by audio was lowest) among those between the ages of 18 and 24 (72.5%), college graduates (67.4%), beneficiaries of private health plans (65.9%), and white respondents (61.9%).
  • The share of telehealth visits by video was lowest among those without a high school diploma (38.1%), adults ages 65 and older (43.5%), and Latinos (50.7%).

The Takeaway

Although reports on telehealth disparities are unfortunately quite common, the HHS survey’s modality analysis highlights the need for new strategies to ensure equitable access to video visits.

Audio visits lack several advantages of video visits, including the ability for providers to pick up on nonverbal communication or check on a patient’s home environment. As a result, the authors emphasize a need to keep barriers such as device ownership, broadband access, and digital literacy at the forefront of future regulatory conversations.

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-- The Digital Health Wire team