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NCQA Report: 3 Strategies to Close Telehealth Access Gaps

Mark Melchionna

May 16, 2022

The National Committee for Quality Assurance released a telehealth report that highlighted care disparities and strategies for improvement.

May 16, 2022 - Prioritizing individual preferences and patient needs, breaking down regulatory barriers, and leveraging technology in an equitable manner can go a long way toward addressing the growing disparities in telehealth use, according to a white paper released by the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA).

The white paper, titled The Future of Telehealth Roundtable, discusses ways to close gaps in telehealth use and access.

The NCQA is a nonprofit organization that focuses on improving the quality of care and certifying various healthcare groups.

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As virtual care grows amid the COVID-19 pandemic, The Future of Telehealth Roundtable highlighted various areas that could be enhanced. The white paper derives from an October 2021 conference consisting of telehealth and technology experts from several prominent healthcare organizations, including MedStar Health.

The experts noted that despite the expected benefits associated with telehealth, such as convenience and lower costs, disparities still exist within specific communities.

According to the white paper, three strategies could help close care gaps as telehealth is further implemented.

The first is creating telehealth services that cater to personal patient preferences and needs, as some individuals may face struggles due to their primary language and socioeconomic status.

The second is addressing regulatory barriers to access and changing regulations to allow expanded clinician eligibility for licensure.

The final strategy is ensuring that digital technology can be leveraged efficiently. For example, considering patient access levels to technology is critical because it determines how patients can be reached and how to best care for them.

“Even prior to the pandemic, a change in healthcare delivery was on the horizon with ever-evolving advancements in technology,” said NCQA President Margaret E. O’Kane, in an accompanying press release. “As virtually based care expands, unique patient needs and preferences must be identified and prioritized so that telehealth can help us close the gaps in healthcare and not widen existing disparities.”

The Future of Telehealth Roundtable also emphasized the continuing popularity of telehealth and that it will hold a place in the new normal. But as the implementation process continues with new technology, avoiding the digital divide is necessary to eliminate disparities.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, various studies have emphasized pinpointing the potential barriers to telehealth access.

One study published in February revealed that Black patients with cardiovascular disease (CVD) prefer recording and sharing blood pressure (BP) via a text-based program rather than an online patient portal. This is likely because the patient portal has higher technical requirements than text-based communication.

Further, research published last November shows that patients with limited English proficiency were less likely to use video when accessing virtual services during the pandemic than adults who could speak English comfortably.

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