Historical data shows that minorities have long faced barriers to access to critical health care services. When COVID-19 struck two years ago, telemedicine emerged with the promise of better access to care through the virtual delivery of clinical services and consultations.

But according to a new study led by the University of Houston College of Medicine and published in Journal of General Internal MedicineThe rapid implementation of telemedicine did not bridge the gap as many had hoped.

“We found that racial and ethnic disparities persisted,” said Omolola Adepoju, a clinical associate professor in the UH College of Medicine and director of research at the Humana Integrated Health Sciences Institute at UH. “This suggests that the promise of a positive impact of telemedicine on health care access and health outcomes may far outweigh underserved populations.”

Adepoju partnered with Lone Star Circle of Care, a federally qualified health center (FQHC) that was driving those disparities, to examine how it caters to the poor, uninsured and underinsured, mostly minority populations. . The research team examined electronic medical records from 55 individual clinics in 6 different counties in Texas.

“Our main finding was that African Americans were 35% less likely to use telemedicine than whites,” Adepoju said. “And Hispanics were 51% less likely to use it.”

The reason, the study found, was a large digital divide.

“People who really need to reach out to their primary care providers may be cut off [of telemedicine] Because they don’t have the technology or might not know how to use it,” Adepoju said.

According to Adipozu, only one in four households earning $30,000 or less own a smart device, such as a phone, tablet or laptop, while three out of four households earn $100,000 or more. And only 66% of African American and 61% of Hispanic households have access to broadband Internet, compared to 79% of white households.

The study also found that adults younger than 18 and older were less likely than non-elderly adults to visit telemedicine, as covered under Medicaid coverage, or not to have insurance.

Another factor that played a role was how far a person lived from a clinic.

“We observed a dose-response for geographic distance so that the further a patient is, the more likely they are to use telemedicine,” Adepozu said. “The type of visit, whether for acute or non-acute condition, was also associated with telemedicine use. Non-acute visits were more likely via telemedicine.”

Despite recent easing of COVID-19 restrictions and people returning to more personal care, telemedicine is here to stay. According to Adepoju, the hope is that the minorities will be better educated and equipped to take advantage of it.

But they will need someone who can walk them through to make their appointments worthwhile.

“Clinics will need a technology support system,” she said. “A staff who conducts pre-visit devices and connectivity tests with patients can help patients maximize telemedicine as an option for care.

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material provided by University of Houston, Original written by Brian Luhn. Note: Content can be edited for style and length.