Massachusetts payers to study telehealth's effects on racial, socioeconomic barriers to healthcare

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The Massachusetts Association of Health Plans is sponsoring an 18-month study to examine how access to telehealth services during the COVID-19 pandemic has varied based on race, ethnicity and socioeconomic factors, according to a Dec. 2 news release.

Researchers from Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute's population medicine department will lead the telehealth study, which will combine analyses of healthcare claims data from Medicaid, commercial and Medicare members with interviews with members, providers and health officials in Massachusetts communities with disproportionately low rates of telemedicine use.

An advisory board including representation from many local area health systems will support the study and the Massachusetts Health Policy Commission will also serve as an adviser. MAHP is scheduled to release a preliminary report next July measuring telehealth usage rates before and since the COVID-19 pandemic as well as differences in insurance, socioeconomic status, race and ethnicity. The report will also review actions health plans have taken to enable access to telehealth services and ways to improve demographic data in the health plan setting.

The final report, which is tentatively scheduled to release in July 2022, will measure interval changes in telehealth usage rates and equity, identify communities with low rates of digital access and telehealth usage rates and provide actionable steps to achieve health equity in virtual care.

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