A State Profile of Disparities in Telehealth Utilization Among Medicare Beneficiaries: An Intersection Between Race/Ethnicity, Rurality, and Chronic Conditions-Arkansas, 2019

Cari A. Bogulski, Mahip Acharya, George Pro, Mir M. Ali, Maysam Rabbani, Corey J. Hayes, Hari Eswaran

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Introduction: The COVID-19 pandemic brought about renewed interest and investment in telehealth, while also highlighting persistent health disparities in the Southern states. Little is known about the characteristics of those utilizing telehealth services in Arkansas, a rural Southern state. We sought to compare the characteristics of telehealth utilizers and nonutilizers among Medicare beneficiaries in Arkansas before the COVID-19 public health emergency to provide a baseline for future research investigating disparities in telehealth utilization. Methods: We used Arkansas Medicare beneficiary data (2018-2019) to model telehealth use. We included interactions to assess how the association between the number of chronic conditions and telehealth was moderated by race/ ethnicity and rurality, adjusted for covariates. Results: Overall telehealth utilization in 2019 was low (n = 4,463; 1.1%). The adjusted odds of utilizing telehealth was higher for non-Hispanic Black/African Americans (vs. white, adjusted odds ratio [aOR] = 1.34, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 1.17-1.52), rural beneficiaries (aOR = 1.99, 95% CI = 1.79-2.21), and those with more chronic conditions (aOR = 1.23, 95% CI = 1.21-1.25). Race/ethnicity and rurality were significant moderators, such that the association between the number of chronic conditions and telehealth was strongest among white and among rural beneficiaries. Discussion: Among the 2019 Arkansas Medicare beneficiaries, having more chronic conditions was most strongly associated with telehealth use among white and rural individuals, while the effect was not as pronounced for Black/African American and urban individuals. Our findings suggest that advances in telehealth are not benefiting all Americans equally, with aging minoritized communities continuing to engage with more strained and underresourced health systems. Future research should investigate how upstream factors such as structural racism perpetuate poor health outcomes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1759-1768
Number of pages10
JournalTelemedicine and e-Health
Volume29
Issue number12
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2023

Keywords

  • Medicare
  • chronic conditions
  • health disparities
  • health equity
  • rural
  • telehealth

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