Income, ethnicity and language disparities in telemedicine revealed in new study 

Low-income, non-English-speaking patients of Hispanic and Asian ethnicities may be less likely to use telemedicine, according to a new study published Jan. 5. 

Between Jan. 1 to Sept. 30, 2020, the researchers looked at over 29,000 patient-physician interactions among 8,997 adult cancer patients receiving outpatient care at UC San Diego Health. Just over 8,000 of these interactions occurred virtually, either via video or phone.

They found that Hispanic patients had 14 percent lower odds of using telemedicine than non-Hispanic white patients. Asian patients were 21 percent less likely to use telemedicine than white people.

Language played a major factor in telehealth use too, with Spanish speakers having 29 percent decreased odds of using the service, and other non-English and non-Spanish language speakers 28 percent less likely to use telemedicine. 

Income also affected telehealth use. Medicaid patients were 34 percent less likely to use telehealth, and those in the bottom income quartile had 33 percent decreased odds. They also found the lowest telehealth use rates correlated with the zip codes with the highest levels of COVID-19 infection.

The researchers said that since use of telemedicine is expected to continue even after the pandemic, the study demonstrates that "culturally and linguistically tailored telemedicine could help reduce health disparities for our vulnerable cancer patients." 

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