Sociodemographic Trends in Telemedicine Visit Completion in Spine Patients During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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Study design: Retrospective cohort study.

Objective: This study identifies potential disparities in telemedicine utilization in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath in patients receiving spine surgery.

Summary of background data: COVID-19 led to the rapid uptake of telemedicine in the spine surgery patient population. While previous studies in other medical subspecialties have identified sociodemographic disparities in telemedicine uptake, this is the first study to identify disparities in patients undergoing spine surgery.

Methods: This study included patients who underwent spine surgery between June 12, 2018 and July 19, 2021. Patients were required to have at least one scheduled patient visit, either virtual (video or telephone visit) or in-person. Binary socioeconomic variables used for modeling included: urbanicity, age at time of procedure, sex, race, ethnicity, language, primary insurer, and patient portal utilization. Analyses were conducted for the entire cohort and separately for cohorts of patients who had visits scheduled within specific timeframes: Pre-COVID-19 surge, initial COVID-19 surge, and post-COVID-19 surge.

Results: After adjusting for all variables in our multivariable analysis, patients who utilized the patient portal had higher odds of completing a video visit compared to those who did not (OR: 5.21; 95% CI: 1.28, 21.23). Hispanic patients (OR: 0.44; 95% CI: 0.2, 0.98) or those living in rural areas (OR: 0.58; 95% CI: 0.36, 0.93) had lower odds of completing a telephone visit. Patients with no insurance or on public insurance had higher odds of completing a virtual visit of either type (OR: 1.88; 95% CI: 1.10, 3.23).

Conclusion: This study demonstrates the disparity in telemedicine utilization across different populations within the surgical spine patient population. Surgeons may use this information to guide interventions aimed at reducing existing disparities and work with certain patient populations to find a solution.



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