Receive a weekly summary and discussion of the top papers of the week by leading researchers in the field.

In BMC public health ; h5-index 82.0

BACKGROUND : The COVID-19 pandemic has become a serious public health concern for older adults and amplified the value of deploying telehealth solutions. The purpose of this study was to investigate telehealth offered by providers among U.S. Medicare beneficiaries aged 65 years and older during the COVID-19 pandemic.

METHODS : This cross-sectional study analyzed Medicare beneficiaries aged 65 years and older using data from the Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey, Winter 2021 COVID-19 Supplement ([Formula: see text]). We identified variables that were associated with telehealth offered by primary care physicians and beneficiaries' access to the Internet through a multivariate classification analysis utilizing Random Forest machine learning techniques.

FINDINGS : For study participants interviewed by telephone, 81.06% of primary care providers provided telehealth services, and 84.62% of the Medicare beneficiaries had access to the Internet. The survey response rates for each outcome were 74.86% and 99.55% respectively. The two outcomes were positively correlated ([Formula: see text]). The Our machine learning model predicted the outcomes accurately utilizing 44 variables. Residing area and race/ethnicity were most informative for predicting telehealth coverage, and Medicare-Medicaid dual eligibility and income were most informative for predicting Internet access. Other strong correlates included age, ability to access basic needs and certain mental and physical health conditions. Interactions were found among statuses of residing area, age, Medicare Advantage and heart conditions that intensified the disparity of outcomes.

CONCLUSIONS : We found that telehealth offered by providers likely increased during the COVID-19 pandemic for older beneficiaries, providing important access to care for certain subgroups. Policymakers must continue to identify effective means of delivering telehealth services, modernize the framework of regulatory, accreditation and reimbursement, and address disparities in access to telehealth with a particular focus on underserved communities.

Lu Min, Liao Xinyi


COVID-19, Medicare, Older adults, Primary care, Telehealth, Telemedicine