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Patient Characteristics of VA Telehealth Users During Hurricane Harvey.

Der-Martirosian C, Heyworth L, Chu K, Mudoh Y, Dobalian A. Patient Characteristics of VA Telehealth Users During Hurricane Harvey. Journal of primary care & community health. 2020 Jan 1; 11:2150132720931715.

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Research on patient characteristics of telehealth users is relatively new. More studies are needed to understand the characteristics of telehealth users during disasters. This study attempts to bridge this gap and examines patient characteristics of telehealth users compared with nontelehealth users at the Houston VA Medical Center (VAMC) immediately before and after Hurricane Harvey (2017). Since use of telehealth services reached its peak and gradually declined within 2 weeks after the landfall, the data analyses focused on 14 days before/14 days after Harvey. Two sets of analyses were conducted using chi-square, test, and one-way analysis of variance: (1) Patient characteristics of telehealth users were compared with nontelehealth users. (2) Patient characteristics were compared between 3 subgroups of telehealth users. Compared with nontelehealth users, telehealth users were older (mean age: 60.8 vs 58.5 years, < .001) and had a higher mean Nosos health risk score (1.9 vs 1.4, < .001). They also had a higher mean number of outpatient visits (28.0 vs 19.8, < .001), higher emergency room use (37% vs 29%, < .001), and higher rates of hospitalizations (21% vs 13%, < .001) during the 12 months before Harvey. When compared to less frequent telehealth users, the most frequent telehealth users were the oldest and most medically complex patients. As the largest integrated health care system in the United States, the VA has many advantages favoring successful implementation of telehealth services during disasters. However, more research is needed to better understand how VA telehealth could meet the varying needs of veterans to lower risk of harm during differing types of disasters.

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