Determinants of Telehealth Technologies in a Rural Population

Telemed J E Health. 2023 Mar 6. doi: 10.1089/tmj.2022.0490. Online ahead of print.


Background: Telehealth's applicability may be limited for vulnerable populations including rural communities. While broadband access is a known barrier to telehealth use, other factors may influence a person's ability or preference to use telehealth. Objective/Purpose: To compare characteristics of telehealth users versus nontelehealth users in a rural health care network. Methods: We surveyed a stratified random sample of 500 adult patients in August 2021 about telehealth use. We used descriptive statistics to compare characteristics of telehealth users with nontelehealth users. Telehealth was defined in three different ways as follows: (1) phone or video visit, (2) video visit, and (3) patient portal use. Results: Mean age of the 206 respondents was 60 years, 60.7% were female, 60.4% had some college education; 84.9% had home internet, and 73.3% used the internet independently. Video telehealth use was independently associated with younger age (<65), having some college education, being married/partnered, and being enrolled in Medicaid. When telehealth included a phone option, disability was positively associated with telehealth use, and living in a rural town versus metropolitan/micropolitan area was negatively associated with telehealth use. Being younger, married/partnered, and having some college education were significantly associated with patient portal use. Conclusion: Videoconferencing and patient portal use pose barriers to those who are older and have less education. However, these barriers disappear when telehealth is available through telephone.

Keywords: COVID-19; health equity; patient characteristics; rural; telehealth; telemedicine.