Background: Studies conducted in Israel and in other countries show that minority populations typically underuse telehealth services notwithstanding the advantages inherent in the use of these services. The goal of this study was to examine telehealth use patterns and the barriers to the use of telehealth services in the Arab population in Israel, which is a culturally and ethnically varied minority population with a unique language and culture.
Methods: A telephone survey was conducted among a representative sample of the adult Arab population in Israel from October 29 to November 4, 2020. Of the randomly sampled 1,192 adult Israeli Arabs 501 participants responded to the entire questionnaire, representing a response rate of 42%.
Results: The study found that the majority of the adult Arab population in Israel faced no technology or Internet accessibility barriers. Thus, the majority of adult Israeli Arabs (87%) use the Internet on a daily basis and have smartphones (96%) and an Internet connection (93%). However, although they have high technology and Internet accessibility, their use of telehealth services is mostly a telephone appointment with a doctor (66%). At the same time, significantly lower use rates were found with regard to advanced telehealth services delivered through the Internet, e.g., consultation with a health care provider by email or chat (34%) or video chat (8%) and ordering of medications (14%). It was found that Arab Christians are more likely to use digital services than Arab Muslims, even when background characteristics are statistically controlled. Lack of awareness was found to be the major barrier to the use of telehealth services, specifically advanced services such as ordering of medications (23%) and video medical consultation (15%). A high rate of women cited the unmet need for the discreet provision of telehealth services as a barrier to their use of the services. It was also found that the majority of the adult Arab population had no objection in principle to the use of email or chat (75%) or video chat (51%) for consultation with a health care provider. It was further found that facilitating factors promoting the use of telehealth services include previous acquaintance with the health care provider, a stable internet infrastructure, the provision of the services in the Arabis language, guidance in the use of the service, a recommendation by a health care provider, and the participation of a family member in the online medical consultation.
Conclusions: The study findings highlight the need for the provision of accessible and customized telehealth services for minority populations. Whether delivered over the phone or through the Internet, the services have to be culturally (for Muslims and Christians) and linguistically (Arabic) adapted, guidance in the use of the services should be provided, and service marketing should be tailored to the target minority population. Specific solutions should be developed for the discreet provision of telehealth services for women, maintaining their privacy in online consultation with a health care provider, while the option of having a family member participate in the online medical consultation should be clearly indicated. In addition, awareness of telehealth services should be enhanced through promotional activities culturally adapted to the Arab society, for instance, through recommendation by the family doctor.
Keywords: Accessibility; Arab population; Telehealth services.
© 2023. The Author(s).