Ensuring Access to Telehealth Solutions for Medically Underserved Populations
Easy access to healthcare is not a guarantee, particularly for individuals living in areas with fewer providers. In recent months, the value of telehealth in reaching underserved populations has become increasingly apparent as most patients shift to telehealth services. Recently, however, a report was jointly issued by the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative and the UCLA Health Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture that found that the introduction of telehealth may not be as impactful for certain members of these underserved communities. Telehealth will go a long way in improving access to care for the 7 million Californians who currently live in areas with physician shortages, but it is critical that policymakers and industry leaders alike acknowledge and address disparities in technological infrastructure that affect patients and providers alike.
- The COVID-19 pandemic has made virtual visits the standard for administering non-emergency care, but many patients have “been affected by their lack of internet or devices to support virtual visits…[and] also by their providers’ lack of broadband connectivity, equipment, and electronic medical record and electronic health record system capacity limitations,” (www.healthcareitnews.com, ¶4). Safety-net clinics, clinics serving medically underserved and rural populations, have had a particularly challenging time, as many are “facing alarming drops in Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements as a result of the drop in face-to-face consultations,” (www.healthcareitnews.com, ¶3), further hindering their ability to build up their telehealth infrastructure and capabilities.
- The COVID-19 pandemic has further exposed the inequities in the healthcare system. The report published by the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative and the UCLA Health Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture, states that “when compared with non-Latino Whites, Latinos are less likely to have a regular source of health care and have fewer physician visits,” (www.healthcareitnews.com, ¶6). A factor that places regular, preventative care even further out of reach for some members of the Latino community is the lack of representation of Spanish-speaking physicians. According to the study, “medical interpreter use will need to be systematically incorporated into telehealth technology to ensure language-concordance is addressed. (www.healthcareitnews.com, ¶14).
Disparities in health outcomes for individuals of minority backgrounds, those living in rural areas, and those experiencing poverty have long plagued the American healthcare system. Taking the time to address disparities in resource access for both providers and patients at the dawn of this new telehealth era will ensure that providers have the appropriate support and resources to deliver high-quality care to the entirety of their patient population.
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