Telehealth can, theoretically, make healthcare more accessible for people when circumstances (like a pandemic) make in-person visits difficult. But thanks to the accelerated adoption of telehealth in the last 12 months, public health officials have seen a worrying trend: Some of the same limitations of in-person healthcare pervade in telehealth, too.
“This increased reliance on this telehealth presents a really tough challenge, because it impacts the healthcare for minority, older, non-English speaking, less educated [adults], and it can end up exacerbating the disparities that are already existing,” says Sheba George, a sociologist at the Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science in Los Angeles. Without overcoming the digital divide and providing broadband for more households, telehealth will remain inaccessible to the same people who have trouble accessing in-person healthcare.
Telehealth was never meant to replace in-person healthcare entirely. “There are things that can’t be done remotely,” says George Demiris, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania who studies technology’s role in healthcare. Diagnostic scans—like CT scans or MRIs—can’t be done at home because of the expensive, technical equipment they require.