According to a study recently published by JAMA in ‘JAMA Network Open’, Veterans Health Administration (VHA) patients who utilized video-based telehealth the most frequently and in-person care the least frequently throughout the COVID-19 pandemic had the highest levels of broadband availability in addition to the lowest area deprivation index (ADI). Healthcare delivery is everchanging following the COVID-19 pandemic that took place in the last two years. With this, the adoption of telehealth services has become more popular than ever before. Despite evident advantages to engaging in virtual treatment, many patients are unable to access it due to existing inequality of opportunities in the healthcare industry.
The data represents 937 primary care clinics that provided both telehealth and in-person care, and it was gathered from visits that took place both before (from October 1, 2016, to February 8, 2020), and during (from March 1, 2020, to June 30, 2021) the COVID-19 pandemic. Researchers classified “broadband availability” as inadequate, adequate, or ideal based on their findings. The factors taken into consideration for this were the upload and download speeds. Approximately seven million veterans in total received primary care during the study’s time frame. 91.8 percent of them were men, 71.9 percent were White, 63 percent lived in cities, and the average age of the patients was 63.9. Researchers calculated changes in the quarterly primary care visit count between the pre- and mid-pandemic periods using adjusted regression analyzes.
A key finding of the study was that video visits were more common for patients who lived in areas with dependable broadband connectivity. In comparison to veterans with inadequate connectivity, those with optimal broadband engaged in 16 more video visits per 100 patients per quarter. Researchers also discovered that regions with low ADI, or regions with fewer social disadvantages, saw the biggest increases in video visit rates. These results led researchers to the conclusion that patients’ use of video-based telehealth is significantly influenced by the availability of broadband. The study also recommended that future investigations assess the connection between patient outcomes and telehealth access.
The study’s limitations were noted by the researchers, most notably the inability to distinguish between visits that started on video and switched to telephone due to technical difficulties, the failure to take into account the variations in telehealth demand across different VHA markets, and the omission of information regarding mobile telephone service coverage when evaluating broadband availability.