3 ways to make telehealth more equitable 

While telehealth has helped carry out patient care for conditions ranging from diabetes to heart disease during the pandemic, the technology does not always meet the needs of patients equally, according to Dr. Meera Sunder.   

In a July 3 blog post for Harvard Health, Dr. Sunder of Cambridge (Mass.) Health Alliance, highlights some of the inequalities telehealth presents to patient care, which she recognized during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Here are three ways to make telehealth more equitable, according to Dr. Sunder:

1. Incorporate translation resources for patients who do not speak English. To treat a patient and her husband from Brazil who were having trouble navigating telehealth, Cambridge Health Alliance combined its staff and health interpreter services to help the patients access the patient portal and video tech, which then allowed them to participate in teledermatology consults to diagnose and treat their skin infections.

2. Be aware of social determinants of health and internet and smartphone barriers. Poor and disadvantaged patient populations often lack access to digital devices and internet, which limits their telehealth participation abilities. Providers must screen for SDOH to identify hurdles patients may face and find other solutions.

When treating a 77-year-old patient with several heart conditions but no access to a digital device, Cambridge Health Alliance sent him a remote home rhythm monitor that detected untreated abnormal heart rhythms and connected him with a cardiologist to address the issue.

3. Schedule in-person visit when a physical examination may impact care decisions. While telehealth shows potential for improving care access, providers still need to see patients in-person to make certain care decisions. When a patient presented ear discomfort via a telehealth appointment, he later had to come into the office for an exam to correctly diagnose his condition and administer the proper treatment.

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