Telemedicine has been shown to have had reduced uptake among historically marginalized populations within multiple medical specialties during the COVID-19 pandemic. An evaluation of health disparities among patients receiving ophthalmic telemedical care during the pandemic is needed.
To evaluate disparities in the delivery of ophthalmic telemedicine at Massachusetts Eye and Ear (MEE) during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This retrospective, cross-sectional study analyzed clinical visits at a single tertiary eye care center (MEE) from January 1 to December 31, 2020. Patients who had ophthalmology and optometry clinical visits at the MEE during the study period were included.
Telemedicine vs in-person clinical encounters.
Variables associated with use of ophthalmic telemedicine during the study period.
A total of 2262 telemedicine ophthalmic encounters for 1911 patients were included in the analysis. The median age of the patients was 61 (interquartile range, 43-72) years, and 1179 (61.70%) were women. With regard to race and ethnicity, 87 patients (4.55%) identified as Asian; 128 (6.70%), as Black or African American; 23 (1.20%), as Hispanic or Latino; and 1455 (76.14%), as White. On multivariate analysis, factors associated with decreased receipt of telemedical care included male sex (odds ratio [OR], 0.86; 95% CI, 0.77-0.96), Black race (OR, 0.69; 95% CI, 0.56-0.86), not speaking English (OR, 0.63; 95% CI, 0.48-0.81), educational level of high school or less (OR, 0.83; 95% CI, 0.71-0.97), and age (OR per year of age, 0.99; 95% CI, 0.989-0.998). When comparing telephone- and video-based telemedicine visits, decreased participation in video-based visits was associated with age (OR per year of age, 0.96; 95% CI, 0.94-0.98), educational level of high school or less (OR, 0.54; 95% CI, 0.29-0.99), being unemployed (OR, 0.28; 95% CI, 0.12-0.68), being retired (OR, 0.22; 95% CI, 0.10-0.42), or having a disability (OR, 0.09; 95% CI, 0.04-0.23).
The findings of this cross-sectional study, though limited to retrospective data from a single university-based practice, suggest that historically marginalized populations were less likely to receive ophthalmic telemedical care compared with in-person care during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic in the US. Understanding the causes of these disparities might help those who need access to virtual care.