Telehealth use flourished during the COVID-19 pandemic, as older patients faced obstacles to seeking in-person care. Heavy reliance on telehealth may continue post-pandemic, due to increased Medicare investments in its use. However, it is unclear if older adults with disabilities face obstacles to effective telehealth use. We evaluate: (1) how sensory, physical, and cognitive impairments affect older adults’ use of telehealth only, traditional in-person care only, neither, or both (i.e., combined care); and (2) whether these effects differ on the basis of socioeconomic and social resources that may facilitate telehealth use.
Data are from the Self-Administered Questionnaire in the 2020 wave of the Health and Retirement Study (n = 4,453). We estimated multinomial logistic regression models to evaluate associations between impairments and health care service use and tested two-way interaction terms to evaluate moderation effects.
Persons without impairments were most likely to use combined care, considered the optimal form of care. Persons with vision or cognitive impairment were more likely to use telehealth or traditional care only, whereas persons with three or more physical limitations were least likely to use telehealth alone, relative to combined care. Patterns did not differ significantly on the basis of any of the potential moderators.
We discuss implications for health care policy and practice, in light of reimbursement changes proposed by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for telehealth services. These proposals include the elimination of voice-only services which may be particularly beneficial to vision-impaired older adults.