BMC Health Serv Res. 2023 Jan 16;23(1):41. doi: 10.1186/s12913-023-09057-8.
BACKGROUND: While emerging studies suggest that the COVID-19 pandemic caused disruptions in routine healthcare utilization, the full impact of the pandemic on healthcare utilization among diverse group of patients with type 2 diabetes is unclear. The purpose of this study is to examine trends in healthcare utilization, including in-person and telehealth visits, among U.S. veterans with type 2 diabetes before, during and after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, by demographics, pre-pandemic glycemic control, and geographic region.
METHODS: We longitudinally examined healthcare utilization in a large national cohort of veterans with new diabetes diagnoses between January 1, 2008 and December 31, 2018. The analytic sample was 733,006 veterans with recently-diagnosed diabetes, at least 1 encounter with veterans administration between March 2018-2020, and followed through March 2021. Monthly rates of glycohemoglobin (HbA1c) measurements, in-person and telehealth outpatient visits, and prescription fills for diabetes and hypertension medications were compared before and after March 2020 using interrupted time-series design. Log-linear regression model was used for statistical analysis. Secular trends were modeled with penalized cubic splines.
RESULTS: In the initial 3 months after the pandemic onset, we observed large reductions in monthly rates of HbA1c measurements, from 130 (95%CI,110-140) to 50 (95%CI,30-80) per 1000 veterans, and in-person outpatient visits, from 1830 (95%CI,1640-2040) to 810 (95%CI,710-930) per 1000 veterans. However, monthly rates of telehealth visits doubled between March 2020-2021 from 330 (95%CI,310-350) to 770 (95%CI,720-820) per 1000 veterans. This pattern of increases in telehealth utilization varied by community type, with lowest increase in rural areas, and by race/ethnicity, with highest increase among non-hispanic Black veterans. Combined in-person and telehealth outpatient visits rebounded to pre-pandemic levels after 3 months. Despite notable changes in HbA1c measurements and visits during that initial window, we observed no changes in prescription fills rates.
CONCLUSIONS: Healthcare utilization among veterans with diabetes was substantially disrupted at the onset of the pandemic, but rebounded after 3 months. There was disparity in uptake of telehealth visits by geography and race/ethnicity.