Disparities in Use of Virtual Primary Care During the Early COVID-19 Pandemic

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Telemedicine journal and e-health


Background: The COVID-19 pandemic increased the use of virtual health care. However, certain factors may disparately affect some patients' utilization of virtual care. Associations between age, racial categories (White or Black), and socioeconomic disadvantage were evaluated during the early COVID-19 pandemic.

Methods: This cross-sectional retrospective study included adult patients with virtual or in-person primary care encounters at a large, midwestern hospital system with widespread urban and suburban offices between March 1, 2020, and June 30, 2020. Virtual visits included synchronous video and telephone visits and asynchronous patient portal E-visits. Chi-squared tests and multivariable logistic analysis assessed the associations between ages and racial categories, and area deprivation index with the use of virtual versus in-person primary care.

Results: Of 72,153 patient encounters, 43.0% were virtual visits, 54.6% were White patients, and 45.4% were Black. Across equivalent age ranges, black patients were slightly less likely to utilize virtual care than similarly aged White patients, but not consistently across virtual modalities. Women were more likely to use virtual care across all modalities, and individuals >65 years were more likely to use telephone visits and less likely to use video and E-visits, regardless of race. Patients residing in areas with the greatest socioeconomic advantage were more likely to utilize video and E-visits.

Conclusions: Differential patterns of utilization emerged across racial categories and age ranges, suggesting that racial disparities are exacerbated depending upon patient age and mode of utilization.

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ePub ahead of print