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How Telemedicine Can Help Address Health Equity

written by Skye Kalil Written by Skye Kalil
Skye Kalil

Skye Kalil

Skye likes writing about mental health, nutrition, and wellness. She is passionate about sharing information that will educate, and positively affect people's lives.

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reviewed by Renee Rulin, MD, MPH Reviewed by Renee Rulin, MD, MPH
Renee Rulin, MD, MPH

Renee Rulin, MD, MPH

Dr. Rulin is a Board Certified Family Physician with experience treating adults and children of all ages. She completed a residency at Brown University and received a Masters in Public Health from the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. Dr. Rulin enjoys being outdoors as much as the New England weather will allow, enjoys reading and cooking, and practices yoga and meditation.

January 25, 2022 Read Time - 6 minutes

Telemedicine Can Increase Access to Healthcare for Vulnerable Communities 

Telemedicine is a form of healthcare that allows patients to have virtual appointments online with their doctor using their smartphone or computer. Telemedicine makes accessing healthcare from anywhere easy, as long as you have a reliable internet connection. 

At PlushCare, we believe that telemedicine can help advance health equity by serving as a high-quality, affordable option to meet the needs of some vulnerable or underserved populations.

  • Book on our free mobile app or website.

    Our doctors operate in all 50 states and same day appointments are available every 15 minutes.

  • See a doctor, get treatment and a prescription at your local pharmacy.

  • Use your health insurance just like you normally would to see your doctor.

PlushCare-App-Steps

Vulnerable Communities Experience Barriers to Care 

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) characterizes underserved, vulnerable, and special needs populations as communities that include members of minority populations or individuals who have experienced health disparities or health inequities:

  • Latino populations 
  • African American population 
  • American Indian and Alaska Native populations 
  • Refugees 
  • Individuals with limited English proficiency (LEP) 
  • Young adults and postsecondary graduating students who do not have coverage options through a parent’s plan, a student plan, or an employer plan 
  • New mothers and women with children 
  • Individuals with disabilities 
  • Medicaid-eligible consumers who are not enrolled in coverage despite being eligible for Medicaid

Millions of individuals who live in vulnerable communities may experience a variety of factors that result in the underuse of health care services, resulting in health equity challenges. In a report titled Ensuring Access to Quality Health Care in Vulnerable Communities, written by Jay Bhatt, senior vice president and chief medical officer of the American Hospital Association, one or more of the following characteristics can identify a vulnerable community:

  • Lack of access to primary care services
  • Poor economy, high unemployment rates, and limited economic resources
  • High rates of uninsurance and underinsurance
  • Cultural differences that may pose challenges, such as social, cultural, and linguistic barriers that may prevent patients from accessing care
  • Low education or health literacy levels
  • Environmental challenges, which may include unsafe streets; asthma exacerbated by air pollution, leading to unnecessary hospitalizations; housing instability, leading to environmental allergens causing symptoms that may result in inappropriate testing; and minimal or no spaces for physical activity or exercise.

Delaying Medical Care Can Be Dangerous

Putting off preventive screening or ongoing treatment of chronic conditions can worsen health outcomes.

According to a study conducted by the National Institutes of Health titled “Why Do People Avoid Medical Care?,” there are common reasons why people avoid or delay getting medical care:

  1. Unfavorable evaluations of seeking medical care: This includes factors related to physicians, health care systems, and personal issues such as fear or previous negative health care experiences. 
  2. Low perceived need to seek medical care: This is usually due to people expecting their illness or symptoms to go away or improve over time. 
  3. Traditional barriers to medical care: These barriers include high costs, no health insurance, and time constraints. 

COVID-19 is now playing a significant role in our avoidance of medical care. The CDC reported that “In 2020, because of concerns about COVID-19, an estimated 41% of U.S. adults had delayed or avoided medical care including urgent or emergency care and routine care.”

The report also noted that “avoidance of urgent or emergency care was more prevalent among unpaid caregivers for adults, persons with underlying medical conditions, Black adults, Hispanic adults, young adults, and persons with disabilities.”

Telemedicine Can Be a High-Quality, Affordable Option 

According to the CDC, “delayed or avoided medical care might increase morbidity and mortality associated with both chronic and acute health conditions.” Telemedicine is helping to improve health equity by expanding access to health services and connecting patients who are seeking treatment with qualified doctors.

Telemedicine can solve many issues that cause people to avoid or postpone visiting the doctor. Some key benefits of telemedicine are:

  • Lower cost: Telemedicine appointments typically cost much less than in-person visits.
  • Medical access for people without health insurance: Many online companies provide affordable cash-pay telemedicine, which does not require health insurance or referrals.
  • Medical access for people in rural and underserved urban areas: Telemedicine connects patients to doctors located anywhere, as long as there is a reliable internet connection. 
  • No transportation time or costs: To attend your virtual doctor’s appointments, you just need a smartphone or computer. 
  • No need to take time off of work: Typical in-person doctor’s appointments can take hours between commute, waiting rooms, and the appointment. 
  • On-demand options: Some conditions require immediate attention, such as care for babies and children at night time. 
  • Access to specialists: Telemedicine connects patients to a vast network of doctors and specialists located across the United States who are available to support patients. 
  • Online mental health support: Finding a therapist can be a challenging process, but can be much easier with the aid of teletherapy, and will give patients many more options to choose from. 
  • Less chance of catching a new illness: Because you are not in a physical doctor’s office or waiting room with other patients, there is no risk of exposure to pathogens. 
  • Reduced anxiety: Going to the doctor causes many people anxiety for various reasons, and attending doctor’s appointments from the comfort of your own home can help ease many of the anxious feelings. 

Overall, the benefits of telemedicine, including affordability, access, and convenience, play an important role in helping to increase health equity for patients across geographies and communities.

  • Book on our free mobile app or website.

    Our doctors operate in all 50 states and same day appointments are available every 15 minutes.

  • See a doctor, get treatment and a prescription at your local pharmacy.

  • Use your health insurance just like you normally would to see your doctor.

PlushCare-App-Steps

How PlushCare Can Help

PlushCare is an online healthcare platform that connects you with our qualified doctors, who are available to help with the medical concerns you have. PlushCare provides affordable online primary care for people with and without insurance through access to our licensed doctors and the convenience of attending doctor’s appointments from anywhere with internet access. 

PlushCare only employs doctors who have graduated from the top 50 medical schools in the U.S., and our physicians have an average of 15 years of experience. Our high quality of care reflects our commitment to advancing health equity and improving patient outcomes, as well as our mission to help all people live longer, healthier, and happier lives.

Booking an appointment at PlushCare is easy. Go to our website or app, book an appointment, and attend your video chat with your doctor from your smartphone or computer. If your doctor writes you a prescription, it will be electronically sent to your preferred pharmacy. 

Appointments with our top doctors are easy and affordable. You can speak to a licensed doctor, just like an in-person visit, with the only difference being that the appointment is conducted virtually through video chat. PlushCare provides online primary care, urgent care, and mental health care in all 50 states, and is in-network for most major insurance providers in the U.S. 

Click here to book an appointment with an online doctor at PlushCare today.


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Sources:

PlushCare is dedicated to providing you with accurate and trustworthy health information.

Taber, J. M., Leyva, B., & Persoskie, A. (2015). Why do people avoid medical care? A qualitative study using national data. Journal of general internal medicine, 30(3), 290–297. Accessed on January 12, 2022 at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4351276/

Bhatt J, Bathija P. Ensuring Access to Quality Health Care in Vulnerable Communities. Acad Med. 2018;93(9):1271-1275. Accessed on January 12, 2022 at  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6112847/ 

Czeisler MÉ, Marynak K, Clarke KE, et al. Delay or Avoidance of Medical Care Because of COVID-19–Related Concerns — United States, June 2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2020;69:1250–1257. Accessed on January 12, 2022 at https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6936a4.htm 

Most PlushCare articles are reviewed by M.D.s, Ph.Ds, N.P.s, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals. Click here to learn more and meet some of the professionals behind our blog. The PlushCare blog, or any linked materials are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment. For more information click here.

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