Despite a substantial increase in the overall use of telehealth services, underserved populations continue to use telehealth options least, according to a new study by the George Washington University Health Workforce Institute.
The paper was published Dec. 3 in the journal Health Affairs. The GW Health Workforce Institute is based at the George Washington Milken Institute School of Public Health.
The researchers examined trends in telehealth participation from June 2013 through December 2016. Using data collected through a biannual survey commissioned by the Association of American Medical Colleges, the researchers analyzed information provided by more than 22,000 respondents. They also asked respondents whether they had used a telehealth option in the past year, and if so, which type.
The researchers found the use of live video communication increased the fastest among telehealth options, from 6.6 percent in 2013 to 21.6 percent in 2016. Higher income respondents and respondents with physical and mental limitations used the method most. Although telehealth options are viewed as important resources for underserved populations, the researchers found that they were used least by Medicaid beneficiaries, those with an income less than $25,000 and rural communities.
The study also looked at the impact of state telehealth policies on usage. Researchers did not find a significant association between less restrictive policies and increased use, suggesting state efforts alone to remove telehealth barriers may not be enough to increase use.
“Removing state restrictions on who can provide telehealth, where it can take place and which payers will cover telehealth services is important but may not be enough to lead providers or health systems to invest the time, energy and money to begin offering the service or expand its use,” said co-author Ms. Clese Erikson, deputy director of the GW Health Workforce Research Center. “New incentives for both providers and consumers to adopt and use telehealth may be needed.”