Publication date: Jul 11, 2023
Background: Telehealth care expanded during the COVID-19 pandemic, although previous studies show racial, gender, and socioeconomic inequalities in its usage. Racial disparities are known to be mitigated in the Military Health System (MHS), whose 9. 6 million beneficiaries are universally insured and nationally representative. This study investigated whether known disparities in telehealth usage were mitigated in the MHS. Methods: This study performed a retrospective cross-sectional study of TRICARE telehealth claims data from January 2020 to December 2021. Beneficiaries aged 0 to 64 years were identified with Common Procedural Terminology code modifiers 95, GT, and GQ, which indicated procedures that were delivered through either synchronous or asynchronous telecommunication services. Visits were defined as one encounter per patient per day. Analyses included descriptive statistics of patient demographics, number of telehealth visits, and differences between military-provided and private sector care (PSC). Military rank was used as a proxy for socioeconomic status (SES), generally combining income, education, and occupation type. Results: A total of 917,922 beneficiaries received telehealth visits during the study period: 25% in direct care, 80% in PSC, and 4% in both care settings. The majority of visits were received by females (57%) and associated with a Senior Enlisted rank (66%). The visits by racial category were proportional to the percentage of each category in the population. The lowest number of visits was for those older than 60 years, potentially receiving Medicare instead, and those associated with Junior Enlisted rank, a potential disparity that may also reflect access to leave or smaller family size. Conclusions and Relevance: Within the MHS, telehealth visits were equitable by race, in line with previous findings, but not by gender, SES, or age. Findings by gender are reflected in the greater U. S. population. Further research is needed to assess and address potential disparities associated with Junior Enlisted rank as proxy for low SES.