The Expansion of Telehealth: Equity Considerations for Policymakers, Providers, and Payers

Stevland Sonnier, IMPAQ
Sinead Maharrey, AIR
Yael Harris, AIR
Adaeze Enekwechi, IMPAQ

While telehealth can enhance the future of health care delivery for certain conditions, dramatic disparities in access, quality, and patient experiences cannot be overlooked. Advancing health care equity must be carefully considered as we design policies and expand the use of telehealth services.

Today’s COVID-19 morbidity and mortality outcomes echo longstanding racial and ethnic health disparities in the United States. It is now more urgent than ever for policymakers, developers, providers, and payers to ensure telehealth expansion both advances health equity in the long term and connects minority patients to much-needed care now.

Within months of the COVID-19 pandemic, progress that seemed years away came to fruition. Regulators removed geographic restrictions, expanded the list of approved telehealth settings to include personal residences, and included reimbursement for care delivered via different modalities including both telephone and video calls. Recent briefs published by AIR and IMPAQ provide further information on these telehealth policy changes.

This brief provides a high level summary of three essential actions needed for the equitable expansion of telehealth:

  • Promotion of multicultural patient engagement;
  • Increase in accessibility of telehealth services; and
  • Addressing the digital divide.