Association of Patient Characteristics With Delivery of Ophthalmic Telemedicine During the COVID-19 Pandemic
JAMA Ophthalmol. 2021 Sep 23. doi: 10.1001/jamaophthalmol.2021.3728. Online ahead of print.
IMPORTANCE: Telemedicine has been shown to have had reduced uptake among historically marginalized populations within multiple medical specialties during the COVID-19 pandemic. An evaluation of health disparities among patients receiving ophthalmic telemedical care during the pandemic is needed.
OBJECTIVE: To evaluate disparities in the delivery of ophthalmic telemedicine at Massachusetts Eye and Ear (MEE) during the COVID-19 pandemic.
DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS: This retrospective, cross-sectional study analyzed clinical visits at a single tertiary eye care center (MEE) from January 1 to December 31, 2020. Patients who had ophthalmology and optometry clinical visits at the MEE during the study period were included.
EXPOSURES: Telemedicine vs in-person clinical encounters.
MAIN OUTCOMES AND MEASURES: Variables associated with use of ophthalmic telemedicine during the study period.
RESULTS: A total of 2262 telemedicine ophthalmic encounters for 1911 patients were included in the analysis. The median age of the patients was 61 (interquartile range, 43-72) years, and 1179 (61.70%) were women. With regard to race and ethnicity, 87 patients (4.55%) identified as Asian; 128 (6.70%), as Black or African American; 23 (1.20%), as Hispanic or Latino; and 1455 (76.14%), as White. On multivariate analysis, factors associated with decreased receipt of telemedical care included male sex (odds ratio [OR], 0.86; 95% CI, 0.77-0.96), Black race (OR, 0.69; 95% CI, 0.56-0.86), not speaking English (OR, 0.63; 95% CI, 0.48-0.81), educational level of high school or less (OR, 0.83; 95% CI, 0.71-0.97), and age (OR per year of age, 0.99; 95% CI, 0.989-0.998). When comparing telephone- and video-based telemedicine visits, decreased participation in video-based visits was associated with age (OR per year of age, 0.96; 95% CI, 0.94-0.98), educational level of high school or less (OR, 0.54; 95% CI, 0.29-0.99), being unemployed (OR, 0.28; 95% CI, 0.12-0.68), being retired (OR, 0.22; 95% CI, 0.10-0.42), or having a disability (OR, 0.09; 95% CI, 0.04-0.23).
CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE: The findings of this cross-sectional study, though limited to retrospective data from a single university-based practice, suggest that historically marginalized populations were less likely to receive ophthalmic telemedical care compared with in-person care during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic in the US. Understanding the causes of these disparities might help those who need access to virtual care.