When the covid-19 pandemic broke out in the United States, people stopped going to see their doctors. The effect of this is unclear but telemedicine, which had long been heralded as one of the "next big things in medicine" finally took off. Except not everywhere.
A new study out today in JAMA Network Openfound that telemedicine use in the United States varied greatly among the 2800 counties included in the study which covered the early pandemic period, through July 14, 2020. The study included people with commercial insurance or private plans that are approved by Medicare (Medicare Advantage plans) and therefore may not be applicable to all US residents. Nevertheless, the study captured a large segment of the US population and provides insights.
Telemedicine use was lower in counties with lower median income and lower population density. These are also likely to have been some of the same people who would have difficulty reaching an in-person medical visit under normal circumstances. So, increases in telemedicine use among wealthy city-dwellers may have contributed to an existing set of health disparities. Naturally, areas with less broadband and those where telemedicine use was low before the covid-19 pandemic were also slow to take up telemedicine.