CTSA Program Exploring Health Equity Through Telehealth

Guest Blog by Dr. Audie Atienza, NCATS Program Officer and Dr. Sanae ElShourbagy Ferreira, NCATS Health Specialist 

On March 26, 2021, The CTSA Program held an “Un-meeting”, organized by CLIC and CTSC of Cleveland, on the topic of “Tackling the Digital Divide to Improve Telehealth”. This un-meeting brought together 104 participants, representing 32 CTSA hubs, to inform the consortium and those involved with telehealth about the relevance and criticalness of connecting team members while providing the best care possible.

The Un-Meeting started with 7 brief 4×4 (4 slides x 4 minutes) presentations on: Telehealth in Clinical Use, Remote Monitoring, Payor Role in Telehealth Care Delivery, Telehealth and Underserved Areas, Patient Perspective on Telehealth, Connecting Urban Aging Residents through Telehealth, Telehealth for Chronic Conditions: Substance use disorder treatment model.

Participants then attended brain-storming break-out sessions on: a) Telehealth in routine care and chronic conditions; b) Remote monitoring and objective testing for telehealth; c) Payor and policy considerations; d) Telehealth and underserved areas; e) Aging, urban and minority populations; f) Patient experience with telehealth. A synthesis paper summarizing the un-meeting and breakout sessions is being considered.

Dr. Audie Atienza, Program Officer at NCATS, moderated the “Aging, Urban and Minority Populations” break-out group, which included a community member catalyst from the Urban Aging Residents Coalition. Thus, voices from the community were included in the CTSA Un-Meeting! Themes that emerged from the “Aging, Urban, and Minority Population break-out groups included: a) the importance of establishing trusting collaborative relationships with these communities in order for individuals to trust novel telehealth programs; b) establishing technical support for older adults and/or those less technology capable to be comfortable using technology; c) designing telehealth programs tailored to the needs and preferences of older adults and underserved populations; d) incorporating a socio-technical perspective for telehealth programs to consider how these communities interact with both providers and technology platforms; and e) understanding the role of family members of older adults and minority populations in telehealth programs and research.

While more and more older adults, urban and minority populations are adopting the use of smartphones and virtual communication (e.g., Zoom meetings), whether these technologies can be leveraged to address health and medical issues in these populations depends not just on providing technology, but also the social, personal, and cultural context in which telehealth takes place.