New research shows that women are taking advantage of telehealth visits for musculoskeletal concerns at higher rates than men. Healio reported results from the International Geriatric Fracture Society Virtual Annual Meeting which showed that among those aged 31 or older, more women utilized telehealth visits than men, regardless of patient status or platform. Additionally, the proportion of video visits completed by women was significantly higher than in men.
Head researcher Lisa Coleman believes the results indicate that gender could be a predictor of healthcare use overall. In fact, many studies done over the years have concluded that women seek out medical care about 30% more on average than men. However, no one has yet been able to pinpoint exactly why this is the case. Harvard’s Men Health Watch proposes that a variety of social and behavioral factors could give clues as to why men don’t seek out a healthcare provider.
Gap Still Present With COVID-19 Expansion Of Services
These results are especially significant, given the recent expansion of telehealth technologies making it easier than ever before for men to choose to see a physician. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated they saw a 154% increase in telehealth nationwide after the start of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States, with most patients seeking care for conditions other than coronavirus-related symptoms. The CDC found the same gender disparity in its study; 63% of patients seeking telehealth care in 2020 were female.
The increase in nationwide telehealth use was almost certainly helped along by federal telehealth restrictions loosening for Medicare recipients, as well as state governments expanding their Medicaid telehealth reach in response to the coronavirus crisis. However, most studies seem to be focused on usage gaps resulting from a lack of experience with or access to technology rather than gender.
Is Gender Or Technology Readiness A Bigger Factor?
The AMA tried to examine both gender and technology in a study where they measured “unreadiness” for telehealth visits in the older adult population. As defined in the study, unreadiness included one or more of the following factors:
- difficulty hearing, seeing, and/or speaking
- dementia or memory loss
- not owning an internet enabled device
- not understanding how to use email, text, or internet services
They found that of patients 85 years and older, 72% met criteria for unreadiness. Additionally, unreadiness was again far more common in older men than women. The AMA concludes that there are some easy actions that could help more older, unready patients access telehealth services right away. Including closed captioning options on video visits and simplifying user interfaces would be good first steps.
However, it’s clear that gender disparities in telehealth usage as well as in-person visits require further research. Investigating the root causes of why older male patients aren’t utilizing the healthcare system as frequently would increase access, improve quality of life, and provide a more complete picture of where orthopedic care is most needed in the general patient population.