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Disparities in telemedicine utilization among kidney transplant patients during the COVID-19 pandemic: Barriers and opportunities

Clin Transplant. 2023 Sep 16:e15136. doi: 10.1111/ctr.15136. Online ahead of print.


INTRODUCTION: The COVID-19 pandemic allowed for the rapid implementation of telemedicine for kidney transplant patients; however, widespread adoption may worsen existing health care inequities among vulnerable populations. This study aimed to characterize telemedicine utilization by kidney transplant patients during the early pandemic with particular attention to healthcare equity.

METHODS: A retrospective analysis of kidney transplant patients interacting with telemedicine was performed. Patient demographic data and distance to the transplant center were obtained. The National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) Urban-Rural Classification Scheme for Counties and Brokamp Neighborhood Deprivation Index (NDI) score were used to characterize patients’ counties of residence. Multivariable logistic regression evaluated associations between patient and community characteristics and the likelihood of an encounter being telemedicine.

RESULTS: This study included 1033 patients who participated in 3727 encounters from March 11 through October 2020. Characteristics associated with decreased likelihood of telemedicine use were increased age (OR = .993; 95% CI = .986-.999, P = .022), non-White vs. White race (OR = .826, 95% CI = .697-.979; P = .028), male vs. female sex (OR = .746, 95% CI = .632-.880; P < .001), and a higher Brokamp Neighborhood Deprivation Index score (OR = .159; 95% CI = .029-.873; P = .034). The effect of distance to the transplant center on the likelihood of a telemedicine encounter differed by NCHS Urban-Rural designation (interaction P = .018), with its likelihood increasing by 2%-3% with each 10-mile increment among persons residing in medium-, small-, and non-metropolitan counties compared to those residing in the most rural counties.

CONCLUSIONS: Telemedicine visits were less often completed by patients of older age, non-white race, male sex, and those residing in counties having higher NDI scores. While telemedicine has the potential to improve healthcare access and decrease costs, proactive efforts need to be taken to mitigate disparities in vulnerable populations.

PMID:37715601 | DOI:10.1111/ctr.15136

By Nevin Manimala

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