UCLA report: Telehealth must address broadband, infrastructure issues for vulnerable populations

While telehealth has been a useful tool to provide care to patients and reduce potential exposure to COVID-19, policymakers must enact ways to ensure barriers such as broadband connectivity and infrastructure do not limit access for vulnerable patient populations, according to a recent UCLA report.

The UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative and the UCLA Health Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture jointly commissioned the report, dubbed "Telehealth & COVID-19: Policy considerations to improve access to care."

Five report insights:

1. Seven million mainly Latino, African American and Native American Californians live in health professional shortage areas, according to the California Future Health Workforce Commission. 

Telehealth can "address the shortage of healthcare providers in rural and underserved communities, by allowing specialists and subspecialists to evaluate these patients virtually and while integrating care with primary care physicians, decreasing wait times between a referral and a subsequent visit, thus helping patients get the care they need when they need it," according to the report. 

2. Patients have been affected by their lack of internet or devices to engage in virtual visits, but also by their providers' lack of broadband connectivity, equipment and EHR system capacity limitations.

3. Physicians have been using telephone calls to support patient visits with individuals who lack necessary tech resources, but "lower rates for telephone visits have created financial hardships for practices and disproportionately affected physicians who care for Medicare beneficiaries and underserved patients."

4. In California, about 44 percent of the population speaks a language other than English, but Spanish-speaking physicians are most under-represented in the workforce; policymakers must incorporate medical interpreter use into telehealth tech to ensure language concordance is addressed.

5. Evaluation measures for telehealth programs must be established to properly assess the quality of telehealth services, including safety, availability and accommodation of care for limited-English proficient populations.

Click here to view the full report.

More articles on telehealth:
Up to $250B of US healthcare spend could shift to virtual: report  
Maintaining the human connection in telehealth: NYC Health + Hospitals chief population health officer
Health experts: Telemedicine set for long-term role in healthcare

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