Telemedicine Less Utilized in the South and Urban Areas Save
MMWR has reported on a July 2020 survey study from 1,009 Health Resources and Services Administration–funded health centers showing that urban Health centers were more likely to provide virtual visits than those in rural areas.
Telehealth has expanded healthcare access, especially in the South and rural areas. This cost-effective modality can facilitate public health mitigation strategies and prevent transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and other respiratory illnesses, while supporting continuity of care.
Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, in-person ambulatory health care visits declined by 60% across the United States, while telehealth visits increased, accounting for up to 30% of total care provided in some locations.
The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) administers a voluntary weekly Health Center COVID-19 Survey to track health centers’ COVID-19 testing capacity and the impact of COVID-19 on operations, patients, and staff. Data from the weekly COVID-19 survey completed by 1,009 HRSA-funded health centers for the week of July 11–17, 2020, were analyzed.
Over 95% reported providing telehealth services. Health centers in urban areas were more likely to provide >30% of health care visits virtually (i.e., via telehealth) than were health centers in rural areas.
- 4.6% reported no telehealth visits
- 50.8% reported >0% but ≤30% telehealth visits
- 44.6% reported >30% telehealth visits
- 55.1% of urban health centers reported providing >30% of visits by telehealth compared with 29.9% of rural health centers
- Telehealth visits were less frequent in the South (31.1%) compared to the Northeast (56.1%), West (58.9%) and U.S. territories and freely associated states (57.7%)
Approximately one half of health centers in the South are in rural areas, and most of the barriers faced by rural health centers before the pandemic (e.g., the logistics of implementing telehealth, lack of partners or providers, and limited broadband access). Access to adequate broadband and audiovisual technologies might remain a challenge, specifically for rural health centers and patient populations.
CDC has issued guidance on telehealth including considerations for health care systems, practices, and providers using telehealth services applicable both during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. The guidance provides practical approaches to telehealth that can be used to protect health care personnel, patients, and communities.