The pandemic widened the rural-urban telehealth divide, VA finds

Fifty-five percent of VA patients in rural areas used telemedicine during the pandemic compared to 60 percent of patients in urban areas, according to a March 7 study published in JAMA Open Network.

The study examined 63.5 million primary care and 3.6 million mental health integration visits across 138 Veterans Affairs healthcare systems from March 16, 2019, to December 15, 2021. Here's what it found:

  • The rural-urban digital divide is still persistent even after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in mental health integration services.

  • The pandemic increased the rural-urban telemedicine divide.

  • Rural patients are increasing their telemedicine visits and are substituting them for previous in-person services.

  • Telemedicine expansion for rural VA healthcare systems lagged behind urban ones.

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