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Virtual care expansion in the Veterans Health Administration during the COVID-19 pandemic: clinical services and patient characteristics associated with utilization.

Ferguson JM, Jacobs J, Yefimova M, Greene L, Heyworth L, Zulman DM. Virtual care expansion in the Veterans Health Administration during the COVID-19 pandemic: clinical services and patient characteristics associated with utilization. Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association : JAMIA. 2021 Mar 1; 28(3):453-462.

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Abstract:

OBJECTIVES: To describe the shift from in-person to virtual care within Veterans Affairs (VA) during the early phase of the COVID-19 pandemic and to identify at-risk patient populations who require greater resources to overcome access barriers to virtual care. MATERIALS AND METHODS: Outpatient encounters (N? = 42 916 349) were categorized by care type (eg, primary, mental health, etc) and delivery method (eg, in-person, video). For 5 400 878 Veterans, we used generalized linear models to identify patient sociodemographic and clinical characteristics associated with: 1) use of virtual (phone or video) care versus no virtual care and 2) use of video care versus no video care between March 11, 2020 and June 6, 2020. RESULTS: By June, 58% of VA care was provided virtually compared to only 14% prior. Patients with lower income, higher disability, and more chronic conditions were more likely to receive virtual care during the pandemic. Yet, Veterans aged 45-64 and 65+ were less likely to use video care compared to those aged 18-44 (aRR 0.80 [95% confidence interval (CI) 0.79, 0.82] and 0.50 [95% CI 0.48, 0.52], respectively). Rural and homeless Veterans were 12% and 11% less likely to use video care compared to urban (0.88 [95% CI 0.86, 0.90]) and nonhomeless Veterans (0.89 [95% CI 0.86, 0.92]). DISCUSSION: Veterans with high clinical or social need had higher likelihood of virtual service use early in the COVID-19 pandemic; however, older, homeless, and rural Veterans were less likely to have video visits, raising concerns for access barriers. CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE: While virtual care may expand access, access barriers must be addressed to avoid exacerbating disparities.





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