Science

Telehealth became popular due to pandemic shutdown

Prashasti Awasthi Mumbai | Updated on January 12, 2021

Almost half of the people undergoing treatment during lockdown began using some form of telemedicine

The use of telehealth has grown significantly owing to the coronavirus-induced lockdowns, according to a new RAND Corporation study.

According to findings published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, between mid-March and early May 2020, telehealth was used by more than 40 per cent of patients with a chronic physical health condition and by more than 50 per cent of those with a behavioral health condition.

Overall, almost half of the people who were undergoing treatment when the pandemic shutdown began reported using some form of telemedicine.

Behavioral health conditions

Researchers found that the use of telehealth for behavioral health conditions was lower among women and among people over the age of 60. It was also uncommon among Non-Hispanic Whites relative to Non-Hispanic Blacks and was lower among those with less than a high school education relative to those with a college degree.

Dr. Shira H. Fischer, the study’s lead author and a physician-researcher at RAND, a non profit research organization said: “While the increased use of telehealth was widespread, some groups of Americans reported using the services less often than others.”

Fischer added: “If telehealth use is going to remain high, we need to ensure equity of access, particularly for behavioral health care where education, age, and gender were all associated with levels of use.”

Researchers also found that during the pandemic a large majority of telehealth users connected with their own doctor rather than a new or unfamiliar doctor.

According to researchers, sustaining the ability to see one’s own doctor through telehealth may be critical to making telehealth a permanent part of routine health care.

Also read: Demand for telemedicine on the rise amidst Covid-19 pandemic: Survey

Study methodology

For the study, RAND researchers examined the increase in telehealth by surveying 2,052 adults who are a part of the RAND American Life Panel, a nationally representative internet panel. The questions about the use of telehealth were part of a larger survey about life during the pandemic that was fielded between May 1 and May 6.

The study found that among patients who were receiving care when the pandemic began, 11 per cent had used telehealth that included video conferencing from the middle of March to early May, a period of less than two months. In contrast, a survey conducted with the same panel in 2019 found that fewer than 4 per cent had ever used video conferencing with a doctor.

Among people who used telehealth services, researchers found that the use of video telehealth was less common for physical health care (14 per cent of patients) than for behavioral health care (30 per cent of patients).

“There is a wide expectation that telehealth will continue after the pandemic ends. Lessons from the use of telehealth during this period should inform policy for the post-Covid-19 era,” Fischer said.

Published on January 12, 2021

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