Telemedicine Use and Health-Related Concerns of Patients With Chronic Conditions During COVID-19: Survey of Members of Online Health Communities

J Med Internet Res. 2021 Feb 18;23(2):e23795. doi: 10.2196/23795.


Background: It has been widely communicated that individuals with underlying health conditions are at higher risk of severe disease due to COVID-19 than healthy peers. As social distancing measures continue during the COVID-19 pandemic, experts encourage individuals with underlying conditions to engage in telehealth appointments to maintain continuity of care while minimizing risk exposure. To date, however, little information has been provided regarding telehealth uptake among this high-risk population.

Objective: The aim of this study is to describe the telehealth use, resource needs, and information sources of individuals with chronic conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Secondary objectives include exploring differences in telehealth use by sociodemographic characteristics.

Methods: Data for this study were collected through an electronic survey distributed between May 12-14, 2020, to members of 26 online health communities for individuals with chronic disease. Descriptive statistics were run to explore telehealth use, support needs, and information sources, and z tests were run to assess differences in sociodemographic factors and information and support needs among those who did and did not use telehealth services.

Results: Among the 2210 respondents, 1073 (49%) reported engaging in telehealth in the past 4 months. Higher proportions of women engaged in telehealth than men (890/1781, 50% vs 181/424, 43%; P=.007), and a higher proportion of those earning household incomes of more than US $100,000 engaged in telehealth than those earning less than US $30,000 (195/370, 53% vs 241/530 45%; P=.003). Although 59% (133/244) of those younger than 40 years and 54% (263/486) of those aged 40-55 years used telehealth, aging populations were less likely to do so, with only 45% (677/1500) of individuals 56 years or older reporting telehealth use (P<.001 and P=.001, respectively). Patients with cystic fibrosis, lupus, and ankylosing spondylitis recorded the highest proportions of individuals using telehealth when compared to those with other diagnoses. Of the 2210 participants, 1333 (60%) participants either looked up information about the virus online or planned to in the future, and when asked what information or support would be most helpful right now, over half (1151/2210, 52%) responded "understanding how COVID-19 affects people with my health condition."

Conclusions: Nearly half of the study sample reported participating in telehealth in the past 4 months. Future efforts to engage individuals with underlying medical conditions in telehealth should focus on outreach to men, members of lower-income households, and aging populations. These results may help inform and refine future health communications to further engage this at-risk population in telehealth as the pandemic continues.

Keywords: COVID-19; chronic disease; coronavirus; telehealth; telemedicine.

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19 / diagnosis*
  • Chronic Disease
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internet
  • Learning Health System
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pandemics
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Telemedicine / methods*