White patients were more likely to be screened for Covid-19 during telehealth visits during the pandemic than their peers of other races, a new study suggests.
A research team led by members of the Hennepin Healthcare Research Institute analyzed health record data at Hennepin Healthcare, a safety net hospital in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to gauge when people were tested for COVID-19 based on a variety of demographic factors.
Researchers found that white patients were significantly more likely to receive a Covid-19 test than all other racial groups when they performed a doctors visit via telehealth, accounting for 64.5 percent of all tests.
Black patients received only nine percent of Covid-19 screenings performed by telehealth, while accounting for 45 percent of tests performed in an emergency department.
White patients were more likely to catch less serious cases of Covid-19 earlier, as they were more likely to be screened at home via telehealth
Data from the study shows that white patients were more likely to be screened for Covid via telehealth, while black patients were more likely to be screened in emergency room settings
Black and white patients were around evenly likely to receive a Covid-19 screening in an in-patient setting, at 35.7 percent and 37.6 percent respectfully.
Researchers noted that patients who were receiving their tests in an emergency room or in-patient setting were more likely to need more intensive treatment, as their case of the virus was caught later than those who were screened via telehealth.
There was also a massive disparity across the board in testing depending on the primary language of the patient.
Patients who speak English received a majority of the screenings no matter the setting, including a whopping 88 percent of screenings performed via telehealth, and nearly 70 percent of tests overall.
While the results of the test are limited – they only account for one hospital system and do not adjust results for overall population – researchers fear that telehealth could widen an existing racial gap in medical coverage.
Telehealth became the primary way many received health care during the Covid-19 pandemic, as lockdowns closed many clinics for non-emergency visits.
As the pandemic ends, many experts believe telehealth is here to stay, and may remain the medium many routine doctors visits are delivered by.
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), telehealth visits increased by 50 percent in the early stages of the pandemic.
The shift in medical care drove around $29 billion in revenue for health providers as well.
The CDC notes that not all Americans have equal access to health care, and the disparities in the American health care system were exacerbated during the Covid-19 pandemic
There are many health equity issues that arise with telehealth, though.
Not all Americans have access to the stable internet connection necessary to access telehealth.
There is also a problem with insurers not knowing how to bill the visits properly, though many states, like Illinois, have passed laws regulating telehealth visits as normal doctor visits in terms of insurance and billing, preventing patients from being denied these visits by their insurance.
Researchers may have found another potential disparity in this study, though, as more research goes into the system that may be the future of medical care.
Health equity in Covid-19 testing was a problem early on in the pandemic as well, with the CDC reporting that ethnic minorities often faced barriers such as discrimination, transportation, lack of health care and more to not receiving same access as their white counterparts.
Many underserved, primarily minority, communities also were left without the needed supply of tests early on in the pandemic.
The full study is available in the Journal of the American Medical Association on Tuesday.