Telemedicine and video-conferencing are helping to bridge the gap in access to care during the COVID-19 pandemic. These approaches, however, only work if patients have access to the technology needed to engage in telemedicine or videoconference visits.
A paper by Roberts and Mehrota (2020) uses data from the 2018 American Community Survey (ACS) and finds that:
Overall, 41.4% (95% CI, 40.4%-42.4%) of Medicare beneficiaries lacked access to a desktop or laptop computer with a high-speed internet connection at home, and 40.9% (95% CI, 40.0%-41.8%) lacked a smartphone with a wireless data plan…The proportion of beneficiaries without either form of digital access was 26.3% (95% CI, 25.5%-27.1%), and this proportion varied across demographic and socioeconomic groups.
In summary, about 2 of 9 Medicare beneficiaries have no digital access, 3 of 9 have partial access (either laptop/desktop or smartphone) and 4 out of 9 have full access (both laptop/desktop and smartphone). Hopefully these numbers have improved over the last two years. Nevertheless, the digital divide causes more than economic challenges, but in the time of COVID-19 also causes challenges in accessing health care for the elderly as well.