Gaps in Internet Use Narrowed Among Older Adults with Medicare During the COVID-19 Pandemic but Persist

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted that accessing healthcare providers can be difficult for older adults, especially those with multiple chronic conditions who depend on primary care for disease management. The internet is a powerful tool for increasing access to healthcare information, resources, and social supports. Unfortunately, there is a “digital divide” in internet connectivity and use associated with social and demographic characteristics. During the pandemic, the federal government loosened regulatory restrictions and other barriers to encourage use of telemedicine. Efforts were made to expand internet access by expanding broadband coverage, providing free or subsidized internet plans, and subsidizing video-enabled tablets and cell phones for low-income households. Clinicians employed strategies including distributing educational materials on how to do video visits, providing technical assistance for setting up video visits, and offering patients different video platform options. These and other policy and clinical practice changes may have permanently altered the healthcare delivery landscape in favor of telemedicine.

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