Improving Patient Engagement and Equity in Telehealth Services
June 15, 2021
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, New York State has seen rapid expansion of telehealth usage spurred by the need for patients to access care when health care facilities were operating at limited capacity.
Although the explosion in telehealth is tapering off as facilities reopen, increased use of telehealth is here to stay. However, the expansion of telehealth has not benefited all patients equally, with rural and low-income populations and people of color experiencing more barriers and lower levels of utilization. Older adults, as well as non-English speakers, are also less likely to access remote care. A number of barriers limit access, such as lower digital and health literacy; discomfort and confusion; and lack of access to internet connectivity. As telehealth continues its expansion and evolution, it should benefit diverse, low-income patients and promote health equity. In 2021, NYHealth awarded the Fund for the City of New York, on behalf of the Asthma Intervention and Relief Network (AIRnyc), a grant to promote the effective and equitable implementation of telehealth for low-income and otherwise marginalized patients. NYHealth is also supporting a complementary initiative with NYC Health + Hospitals Corporation.
Under this grant, AIRnyc will expand its pilot with Mount Sinai Health System that uses community health workers (CHWs) to assist patients in navigating telehealth services. AIRnyc will launch a partnership with Sun River Health, a network of community health centers, beginning at its Bronx hub site and then expanding to Brooklyn, Queens, and beyond the five boroughs. Under this new partnership, CHWs will help patients access their information, use telehealth online tools, and communicate with their doctors. CHWs will also partner with patients and their families to develop individualized care plans that will integrate in-person and telehealth care. They will provide health coaching and support for patients’ social service needs as well, connecting patients with services such as transportation, child care, housing, legal, financial, and food assistance. As a member of numerous City and statewide telehealth equity initiatives, AIRnyc will compile best practices, educational materials, and other engagement tools to share broadly with coalition partners and policymakers.