One in Three Adults Used Telehealth during the First Six Months of the Pandemic, but Unmet Needs for Care Persisted

Brief

One in Three Adults Used Telehealth during the First Six Months of the Pandemic, but Unmet Needs for Care Persisted

Abstract

In this brief, we provide nationally representative estimates of telehealth use among nonelderly adults six months into the COVID-19 pandemic, as of September 2020. We use data from the second wave of the Urban Institute’s Coronavirus Tracking Survey, fielded September 11 through 28, 2020. The survey contained questions about telehealth use, satisfaction with telehealth use, wanting telehealth but not getting it, not seeing a provider because telehealth was the only option, and reasons for not using telehealth. We find the following:

  • One-third of adults reported having had a telehealth visit to discuss their own health care since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus began in March, and this varied substantially by patient characteristics. Adults in fair or poor health and adults with multiple chronic conditions were significantly more likely to have used telehealth than their respective counterparts. In addition, Black adults and Hispanic/Latinx adults were more likely to have used telehealth than non-Hispanic white adults. In addition, adults living outside metropolitan areas were less likely to have used telehealth than adults living in metropolitan areas.
  • More than three-quarters of adults who used telehealth services were satisfied with their telehealth experiences, but adults in excellent or very good health were more likely to be satisfied than adults in fair or poor health.
  • Adults in fair or poor health, adults with chronic conditions, and Hispanic/Latinx adults were more likely to have wanted a telehealth visit but not received one than adults in excellent or very good health, adults with no chronic conditions, and non-Hispanic white adults.

Compared with all other adults, adults who wanted a telehealth visit but had not had one since the coronavirus outbreak began were more likely to have an unmet need for care because of the pandemic.

Less than 10 percent of adults did not see a provider because their provider was only taking telehealth visits, and they did not want that type of visit. Adults in fair or poor health and adults with chronic conditions were more likely to have this experience than adults in excellent health and adults without chronic conditions. Adults with public health insurance coverage were more likely to have this experience than adults with employer-sponsored insurance coverage.

Our findings suggest telehealth was generally accessible for adults during the first six months of the pandemic, consistent with other work documenting considerable increases in telehealth use over this period. However, barriers to telehealth use and unmet needs for care persisted, suggesting more efforts are needed to ensure equitable access to telehealth.

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