Study Finds Telemedicine May Be Closing the Racial Gap in Primary Care Visits

Historically, there has been racial inequity when it comes to primary care appointments, which are vital for managing and preventing chronic disease. But as COVID-19 struck the United States in 2020 and telemedicine availability rose sharply, a study by researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, found that racial gaps in access disappeared for their patients.

Once “normal” in-office appointments returned, the historic inequities stayed erased. This indicates that telemedicine wasn’t just a stopgap solution but a potential long-term tool for equity.

Data from roughly 1 million appointments in 2019 and 2020 were analyzed. Findings from this analysis showed that completed primary care visits rose from approximately 60 percent among Black patients before the arrival of COVID-19 to over 80 percent in 2020. To compare, non-Black patients’ visit completion rate was in the 70 percent range prior to COVID-19, then was also over 80 percent in 2020.

“We looked through the entire year of 2020, not just the first half of the year when telemedicine was the only option for many people, and the appointment completion gap between Black and non-Black patients closed,” said the study’s senior author, Krisda Chaiyachati, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. “Offering telemedicine, even though it was for a crisis, appears to have been a significant step forward toward addressing long-standing inequities in healthcare access.”

The study, “Primary Care Appointment Completion Rates and Telemedicine Utilization Among Black and Non-Black Patients from 2019 to 2020,” was published in the journal Telemedicine and e-Health. It may be accessed here.

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