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Age and Social Disparities in the Use of Telemedicine During the COVID-19 Pandemic in Japan: Cross-sectional Study.

Miyawaki A, Tabuchi T, Ong MK, Tsugawa Y. Age and Social Disparities in the Use of Telemedicine During the COVID-19 Pandemic in Japan: Cross-sectional Study. Journal of medical Internet research. 2021 Jul 23; 23(7):e27982.

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BACKGROUND: The use of telemedicine outpatient visits has increased dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic in many countries. Although disparities in access to telemedicine by age and socioeconomic status (SES) have been well-documented, evidence is limited as to how these disparities changed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, the equity of patient access to telemedicine has been scarcely reported in Japan, despite the huge potential for telemedicine expansion. OBJECTIVE: We aimed to investigate changes due to age and SES disparities in telemedicine use during the COVID-19 pandemic in Japan. METHODS: Using data from a large internet survey conducted between August 25 and September 30, 2020, in Japan, we examined the associations of participant age and SES (educational attainment, urbanicity of residence, and income level) with their telemedicine use in the following two time periods during the pandemic: April 2020 and August-September 2020. RESULTS: Of the 24,526 participants aged 18 to 79 years (50.8% [n = 12,446] women), the proportion of individuals who reported using telemedicine increased from 2.0% (n = 497) in April 2020 to 4.7% (n = 1159) in August-September 2020. After adjusting for potential confounders, younger individuals were more likely to use telemedicine than older individuals in April 2020. Although this pattern persisted in August-September 2020, we also observed a substantial increase in telemedicine use among individuals aged 70 to 79 years (adjusted rates, 0.2% in April 2020 vs 3.8% in August-September 2020; P < .001 after multiple comparisons). We found disparities in telemedicine use by SES in August-September 2020 that did not exist in April 2020. In August-September 2020, individuals with a university degree were more likely to use telemedicine than those with a high school diploma or less (adjusted rates, 6.6% vs 3.5%; P < .001). Individuals living in urban areas exhibited higher rates of telemedicine use than those living in rural areas only in August-September 2020 (adjusted rates, 5.2% vs 3.8%; P < .001). Disparities in telemedicine use by income level were not observed in either time period. CONCLUSIONS: In general, younger individuals increased their use of telemedicine compared to older individuals during the pandemic, although individuals in their 70s also increased their use of telemedicine. Disparities in telemedicine use by educational attainment and urbanicity of residence widened during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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