Background: Telemedicine use has increased significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic. It remains unclear if its rapid growth exacerbates disparities in healthcare access. We aimed to characterize telemedicine use among a large oncology population in the Deep South during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Materials and methods: A retrospective cohort study was performed at the only National Cancer Institute designated-cancer center in Alabama March 2020 to December 2020. With a diverse (26.5% Black, 61% rural) population, this southeastern demographic uniquely reflects historically vulnerable populations. All non-procedural visits at the cancer center from March to December 2020 were included in this study excluding those with a department that had fewer than 100 visits during this time period. Patient and clinic level characteristics were analyzed using t-test and Chi-square to compare characteristics between visit types (in-person versus telemedicine, and video versus audio within telemedicine). Generalized estimating equations were used to identify independent factors associated with telemedicine use and type of telemedicine use.
Results: There were 50 519 visits and most were in-person (81.3%). Among telemedicine visits, most were phone based (58.3%). Black race and male sex predicted in-person visits. Telemedicine visits were less likely to have video among patients who were Black, older, male, publicly insured, and from lower income areas.
Conclusions: Telemedicine use, specifically with video, is significantly lower among historically vulnerable populations. Understanding barriers to telemedicine use and preferred modalities of communication among different populations will help inform insurance reimbursement and interventions at different socioecological levels to ensure the continued evolution of telemedicine is equitable.
Keywords: health services accessibility; healthcare disparities; minority health; telemedicine.
© The Author(s) 2022. Published by Oxford University Press.