HumanInsight Contraceptive care service provision via telehealth early in the COVID-19 pandemic at rural and urban federally qualified health centers in 2 southeastern states
J Rural Health. 2022 Jul 22. doi: 10.1111/jrh.12701. Online ahead of print.
PURPOSE: To investigate telehealth use for contraceptive service provision among rural and urban federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) in Alabama (AL) and South Carolina (SC) during the initial months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
METHODS: This is a mixed-methods study using data from the FQHC Contraceptive Care Survey and key informant interviews with FQHC staff in AL and SC conducted in 2020. Differences between rural and urban clinics in telehealth use for contraceptive service provision were assessed with a chi-square test of independence. Interviews were audio recorded, transcribed, and coded to identify facilitators and barriers to telehealth.
FINDINGS: Telehealth for contraceptive care increased during the early months of the pandemic relative to prepandemic. Fewer rural clinics than urban clinics provided telehealth for contraceptive counseling (16.3% vs 50.6%) (P = .0002), emergency contraception (0.0% vs 16.1%) (P = .004), and sexually transmitted infection care (16.3% vs 34.6%) (P = .031). Key facilitators of telehealth were reimbursement policy, electronic infrastructure and technology, and funding for technology. Barriers included challenges with funding for telehealth, limited electronic infrastructure, and reduced staffing capacity.
CONCLUSIONS: Differences in telehealth service provision for contraceptive care between rural and urban FQHCs highlight the need for supportive strategies to increase access to care for low-income rural populations, particularly in AL and SC. It is essential for public and private entities to support the implementation and continuation of telehealth among rural clinics, particularly, investing in widespread and clinic-level electronic infrastructure and technology for telehealth, such as broadband and electronic health record systems compatible with telehealth technology.
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