New research to understand the impact of virtual primary care on health equity will be led by Tiffany Veinot, Ph.D., professor at the University of Michigan School of Information and Lorraine Buis, Ph.D., associate professor of family medicine and faculty at the School of Information. Their interdisciplinary team will be joined by Vinod Vydiswaran, Ph.D., assistant professor also at the U-M School of Information, and Anna Laurie, M.D., assistant professor in the department of family medicine. The project was awarded $200,000 in funds to evaluate health equity associated with the rapid virtualization of primary health care, including access, uptake and barriers to use.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted US healthcare, with organizations having transitioned rapidly to virtual care due to physical distancing guidelines and recent Medicare/Medicaid changes in virtual visit reimbursement rules,” explained Veinot. “Yet, previous experience with healthcare technologies like patient portals shows that more socioeconomically advantaged patients are more likely to adopt them.”
Given the disproportionate burden of COVID-19 in disadvantaged groups and their lower access to broadband internet and newer devices, Veinot said it is critical to understand and address potential healthcare disparities linked to virtual care.
The project will involve analyzing electronic health record data, including clinical notes, at Michigan Medicine to determine whether access to virtual primary care has been equitable for Michigan Medicine patients during the COVID-19 crisis, and to document any challenges and barriers.
“We are grateful to Google Health for this generous gift,” said Veinot. “It will allow us to perform critical and timely analyses of the uptake of virtual healthcare, including video and telephone visits, among the most vulnerable patients at Michigan Medicine. Study results will inform Michigan Medicine leadership, and healthcare systems across the United States, about potential unanticipated consequences of the transition to virtual care. It will also inform recommendations to improve the state of care for vulnerable populations in the COVID-19 era.”
This funding is part of Google.org’s $100M commitment to COVID-19 relief efforts and organizations were selected through a competitive, merit-based review process. The funding focuses on key areas in which nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and academic institutions have identified significant need, with an emphasis on near-term impact and solutions for vulnerable populations. Focus areas include health equity, disease spread monitoring and forecasting, frontline health worker support, secondary public health effects, and privacy-preserving contact tracing efforts.
“It’s been remarkable to see leaders across different industries, sectors and areas of expertise come together during this critical time in our world’s history,” said Brigitte Hoyer Gosselink, head of product impact for Google.org. “Google.org is proud to support the efforts of these researchers and nonprofits as they work together to better understand and address the short- and long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and help establish more equitable solutions to ensure everyone has access to the information and resources they need.”