Telehealth Use Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic Among Children with Sickle Cell Anemia

Telemed J E Health. 2022 Aug;28(8):1166-1171. doi: 10.1089/tmj.2021.0132. Epub 2022 Jan 5.


Introduction: Sickle cell anemia (SCA) is a genetic condition that predominantly affects minority populations in the United States. A lack of access to care is strongly associated with poor outcomes and quality of care among children and adolescents with SCA. The use of telehealth, which has rapidly expanded during the COVID-19 pandemic, has been shown to improve access to care for many conditions. However, the adoption of telehealth among children and adolescents with SCA is unknown. Methods: We identified children 1-17 years old with SCA continuously enrolled in Michigan Medicaid from January 2019 to December 2020. The number of in-person and telehealth outpatient visits (both urgent and routine) were summarized prepandemic (January 2019-February 2020) and during the pandemic (March 2020-December 2020); National Provider Identifier was used to identify provider specialty for telehealth visits. Results: The study population comprised 493 children with SCA with a mean age of 8.7 (±4.9) years at study entry. Prepandemic, there were 4,367 outpatient visits; 4,348 (99.6%) were in-person and 19 (0.4%) were telehealth. During the pandemic, there were 2,307 outpatient visits; 2,059 (89.3%) were in-person and 248 (10.7%) were telehealth. Telehealth visits peaked in April 2020 and declined thereafter. The majority of telehealth visits were to hematology (49%), followed by adult subspecialists (27%) and pediatrics/family medicine (14%). Discussion/Conclusions: While the overall number of outpatient visits declined during the initial months of the pandemic compared with 2019, use of telehealth rapidly increased among children and adolescents with SCA. Additional research is needed to understand patient and provider preferences for telehealth and the roles that federal and state policies can play in facilitating telehealth adoption among children and adolescents with SCA.

Keywords: access to care; children; sickle cell anemia; telehealth; telemedicine.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anemia, Sickle Cell* / epidemiology
  • Anemia, Sickle Cell* / therapy
  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Medicaid
  • Pandemics
  • Telemedicine*
  • United States / epidemiology