Telehealth increased Black patients' follow-up visits, study shows

The adoption of telehealth in the beginning of the pandemic led to an increase in Black patients' completion rates for follow-up visits after hospitalization, a study published Jan. 11 in the Journal of General Internal Medicine found.

Researchers used data from Philadelphia-based University of Pennsylvania's electronic medical record system to look at adult patients who had been discharged from a University of Pennsylvania Health System hospital between Jan. 1, 2019, and April 30, 2021. Each of those patients also had an outpatient follow-up appointment scheduled with a primary care physician 30 days after their initial discharge.

Demographics of the patients, completion rates and whether the follow-up visit was in-person or virtual were also noted. 

They found that Black patients' follow-up completion rates went from 52 percent to 70 percent from January 2020 to June 2020. By contrast, white patients' completion rates decreased slightly from 68 percent to 67 percent.

Patients discharged after June 1, 2020, who scheduled telehealth visits were more likely to be younger, Black and female than those who scheduled in-person visits.

"Many Black patients face barriers to accessing primary care, including disparities in distance from clinics, which are only compounded while recovering from an inpatient stay," the study stated. "These findings provide encouraging signals that telemedicine can improve access to care, perhaps by lowering the geographic barriers and opportunity costs to accessing care, as long as there is equitable access to the necessary technology."

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