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Socioeconomic status influences telehealth use, study finds

Dr. Ronald Chen

December 02, 2021

Socioeconomic status may be a factor when it comes to using telemedicine, researchers have observed. Among 16,000 people with a new cancer diagnosis, those with the highest socioeconomic status were more likely to use telemedicine within 30 days of diagnosis. The study, led by researchers at The University of Kansas Cancer Center, was published in JAMA Oncology.

Telehealth, sometimes called telemedicine, lets people visit with their doctor over the phone or virtually. Throughout the pandemic, telehealth has served as a critical link between patients and health care providers. Telehealth may provide quicker access to physician providers and may be a safer option than in-person appointments during COVID surges. However, the study findings suggest that unequal access to telehealth can potentially exacerbate the health equity gap between those with high socioeconomic status and those with low socioeconomic status. 

Ronald Chen, MD, MPH, chair of the Department of Radiation Oncology and associate director for Health Equity at the cancer center, led the study. His team studied claims data from the HealthCore Integrated Research Database, analyzing about 16,000 patients across the United States who were newly diagnosed with breast, lung, prostate or colorectal cancer between January 1 and August 31, 2020.

About 70 percent of people with a higher socioeconomic status had a telehealth appointment within 30 days of their cancer diagnosis. Just 48 percent of people with lower socioeconomic status had a telehealth visit during this time. Cancer patients with a higher socioeconomic status utilized telehealth at a higher rate throughout the study period.

“The rapid development of telehealth has been one of the few positive outcomes from the COVID pandemic. Telehealth has tremendous potential to increase patient access to health care providers,” Dr. Chen said. “However, as we roll out and implement novel health care interventions like telehealth, we must carefully consider health equity at its core. Unequal access to these new interventions will worsen existing health care and cancer disparities.”


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