Telehealth and the digital divide as a social determinant of health during the COVID-19 pandemic

Netw Model Anal Health Inform Bioinform. 2021;10(1):26. doi: 10.1007/s13721-021-00300-y. Epub 2021 Apr 3.


Telehealth has been shown to have comparable health outcomes in terms of patient-physician communication, and patient satisfaction and engagement. Nevertheless, the digital divide has exacerbated the social and economic factors that create barriers to health and well-being. It, therefore, maybe a social determinant of health (SDOH). Such issues as decreased internet connectivity and a lack of Wi-Fi and video chat/webcam in both urban and rural areas can hinder the effectiveness of telehealth to its full capability, especially among communities of color, the poor, and medically underserved. The social aspects of the provision of health care by physicians and health care workers are utilized to combat mistrust and strengthen the physician-patient therapeutic relationship. Addressing policy changes to address the digital divide as a SDOH may strengthen existing health care and public health systems to allow for patient and community-centered approaches to expressing lived narratives, including in a digital format.

Keywords: COVID-19; Digital divide; Obstetrics and gynecology; Social determinants of health; Telehealth.