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Policy Report Demography & Population Studies

Telehealth & COVID-19: Policy Considerations to Improve Access to Care

Researchers examine the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on access to care for vulnerable populations and offer policy recommendations to ensure continued access to high-quality care for all patients through telehealth, especially for patients in linguistically and medically underserved communities.


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Overview:

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the implementation of physical-distancing measures, patients were suddenly no longer able to pursue clinical care in healthcare settings as they once did. To minimize potential exposure and transmission to others, patients are foregoing needed care and essential monitoring of chronic diseases. Providers are scrambling, doing their best to care for patients at a distance, switching to telehealth-based triaging, scheduling the majority of their visits as video or phone visits, and encouraging the use of mail-order pharmacy services. This report examines the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on access to care for vulnerable populations and offers policy recommendations to ensure continued access to high-quality care for all patients through telehealth. 

Key Findings:

  • 7 million mainly Latino, African American, and Native American Californiains currently live in Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSA’s). 
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light the inadequacy of existing telehealth infrastructure and the inefficiencies in existing reimbursement rules. 
  • In California, nearly 44% of the population speaks a language other than English at home, and Spanish-speaking physicians are the most under-represented in the physician workforce. 
  • 84% of Latino adults report internet use, yet only 59% of Latino adults subscribe to home internet services. 
  • Elderly Latino individuals with lower educational levels are less likely to own digital devices, utilize the internet, and are less likely to use telehealth technology willingly. 
  • Research has shown that when community members are involved in the enrollment of patients, telemedicine interventions are more likely to be successful; community buy-in is critical for implementation.