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Health equity related challenges and experiences during the rapid implementation of virtual care during COVID-19: a multiple case study

HumanInsight Health equity related challenges and experiences during the rapid implementation of virtual care during COVID-19: a multiple case study

Int J Equity Health. 2023 Mar 11;22(1):44. doi: 10.1186/s12939-023-01849-y.


BACKGROUND: Virtual care quickly became of crucial importance to health systems around the world during the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the potential of virtual care to enhance access for some communities, the scale and pace at which services were virtualized did not leave many organizations with sufficient time and resources to ensure optimal and equitable delivery of care for everyone. The objective of this paper is to outline the experiences of health care organizations rapidly implementing virtual care during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and examine whether and how health equity was considered.

METHODS: We used an exploratory, multiple case study approach involving four health and social service organizations providing virtual care services to structurally marginalized communities in the province of Ontario, Canada. We conducted semi-structured qualitative interviews with providers, managers, and patients to understand the challenges experienced by organizations and the strategies put in place to support health equity during the rapid virtualization of care. Thirty-eight interviews were thematically analyzed using rapid analytic techniques.

RESULTS: Organizations experienced challenges related to infrastructure availability, digital health literacy, culturally appropriate approaches, capacity for health equity, and virtual care suitability. Strategies to support health equity included the provision of blended models of care, creation of volunteer and staff support teams, participation in community engagement and outreach, and securement of infrastructure for clients. We put our findings into the context of an existing framework conceptualizing access to health care and expand on what this means for equitable access to virtual care for structurally marginalized communities.

CONCLUSION: This paper highlights the need to pay greater attention to the role of health equity in virtual care delivery and situate that conversation around existing inequitable structures in the health care system that are perpetuated when delivering care virtually. An equitable and sustainable approach to virtual care delivery will require applying an intersectionality lens on the strategies and solutions needed to address existing inequities in the system.

PMID:36906566 | DOI:10.1186/s12939-023-01849-y

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