BACKGROUND: It has been widely communicated that individuals with underlying health conditions are at higher risk of severe disease due to COVID-19 than healthy peers . As social distancing measures continue during the COVID-19 pandemic, experts encourage individuals with underlying conditions to engage in telehealth appointments to maintain continuity of care while minimizing risk exposure . To date, however, little information has been provided regarding telehealth uptake among this high-risk population .
OBJECTIVE: The objective of this study was to describe the telehealth use, resource needs, and information sources of individuals with chronic conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic . Secondary objectives include exploring differences in telehealth use by sociodemographic characteristics .
METHODS: Data for this study were collected through electronic survey distributed between May 12-14 , 2020 to members of 26 online health communities for individuals with chronic disease . Descriptive statistics were run to explore telehealth use, support needs, and information sources, and Z-tests were run to assess differences in sociodemographic factors and information and support needs among those who did and did not use telehealth services .
RESULTS: Among the 2,210 respondents , 1,073 (49 %) reported engaging in telehealth in the past 4 months . Higher proportions of women engaged in telehealth than men (50% vs. 43%, P = .007), and a higher proportion of those earning household incomes over $100,000 engaged in telehealth than those earning less than $30,000 (53% vs. 45%, P = .003). While 59% of those under 40 years old, and 54 of those ages 40-55, used telehealth, ageing populations were less likely to do so, with only 45% of individuals 56+ reporting telehealth use (P <.0005 and P =.001, respectively). Patients with cystic fibrosis, lupus, and ankylosing spondylitis recorded the highest proportions of individuals using telehealth when compared to those with other diagnoses . In total , 60% of participants either looked up information about the virus online or planned to in the future, and when asked what information or support would be most helpful right now, over half (n = 1,151 , 52 %) responded``understanding how COVID-19 affects people with my health condition ."
CONCLUSIONS: Nearly half of the study sample reported participating in telehealth in the past 4 months . Future efforts to engage individuals with underlying medical conditions in telehealth should focus on outreach to men, members of lower income households, and aging populations . These results may help inform and refine future health communications to further engage this at-risk population in telehealth as the pandemic continues.