Telemedicine patients more likely urban, educated

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Urbanites are twice as likely as those in rural areas to take part in telemedicine, though participation rates for both remain low, according to a report on broadband use released by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

Based on data from 53,000 households collected by the Census Bureau in July 2011, the report found 8 percent of urban Internet users took part in telemedicine initiatives, compared with 4 percent in rural areas. That stands in contrast to telemedicine's common selling point that it can more effectively and conveniently provide services to people in remote locations.

The telemedicine participants also were wealthier. In households with incomes of $100,000 or more, 11 percent of Internet users took part in remote care, compared 4 percent from households in the under $25,000 bracket. Those with college degrees (10 percent) also were more likely to use telemedicine than those with no high school diploma (2 percent).

Asian-Americans (11 percent) were more likely to use telemedicine than whites (7 percent), blacks or Hispanics (both 6 percent).

Meanwhile, the uses and acceptance of remote care continue to grow. One of the latest examples is a pilot project by the University of California-San Diego Health System to use telemedicine to reduce emergency room wait times. Cameras in the waiting rooms will help bring in extra doctors as needed.

In the broadband report overall, only 7 percent of Internet users reported going online to access medical records, participate in videoconferencing with a doctor, or take advantage of remote procedures such as heart rate monitoring.

It found users ages 25 and 44 were more likely to go online to look up health plans or practitioners than older age groups, as were urban dwellers and those with more education.

That doesn't mean lower-income or less-educated patients don't want to use the Internet for healthcare. It might involve finding the right mix of traditional and online communication with underserved populations, such as cell phones, which workers with multiple jobs often rely on, according to a coalition of advocacy organizations.

A study published this month by researchers from Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center found that urban pediatric clinics could better communicate with hard-to-reach populations through use of digital technologies, including email and smartphones.

A report published this week by Orem, Utah-based ressearch firm KLAS found that most telehealth efforts by providers are focused in five areas: home monitoring, psychiatry, stroke, neurology and intensive care.

To learn more:
- read the report (.pdf)

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