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Inequitable access to general and behavioral healthcare in the US during the COVID-19 pandemic: A role for telehealth?

HumanInsight Inequitable access to general and behavioral healthcare in the US during the COVID-19 pandemic: A role for telehealth?

Prev Med. 2023 Jan 25:107426. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2023.107426. Online ahead of print.


Wide-ranging effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have led to increased psychological distress and alcohol consumption, and disproportionate hardship for disadvantaged groups. Early in the pandemic, telehealth services were expanded to maintain healthcare access amidst lockdowns, medical office closures, and fear of infection. This study examines general and behavioral healthcare access and disparities during the first year of the pandemic. Data are from the 2019-2020 US National Alcohol Survey (collected February 2019 to April 2020) and its COVID follow-up survey conducted January 30 to March 28, 2021 (N = 1819). General and behavioral healthcare-related outcomes were assessed at follow-up, and included perceived need for and receipt of care, delayed care, and use of telehealth since April 1, 2020. Results indicate that the majority of respondents with perceived need for healthcare received some behavioral healthcare (reported by 63%) and particularly general healthcare (88%), but nearly half (48%) delayed needed care. Delays were mostly due to COVID-related reasons, but cost barriers also were common and significantly impeded care-seeking by uninsured persons, young adults, rural residents, and persons whose employment was reduced by the pandemic. Disparities in the receipt of healthcare were pronounced for Hispanic/Latinx (vs. White) and lower-income (vs. higher-income) groups (AORs <0.37, p's < 0.05). Notably, telehealth was commonly used by Hispanic/Latinx and lower-income groups for general and particularly behavioral healthcare. Results suggest that telehealth has provided an important bridge to healthcare for certain medically underserved groups during the pandemic, and may be vital to future efforts to increase equity in healthcare access.

PMID:36709864 | DOI:10.1016/j.ypmed.2023.107426

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