1. Chang, Man-Huei MPH
  2. Moonesinghe, Ramal PhD
  3. Truman, Benedict I. MD, MPH


Context: During the COVID-19 pandemic, demand for telehealth services increased to reduce disease exposure for patients and providers and to meet preexisting demand for physician services in health resource shortage areas.


Objective: To estimate self-reported telehealth availability, equipment for accessing telehealth, and telehealth usage among Medicare beneficiaries during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Design: We used data from the 2020 Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey (MCBS) COVID-19 Fall Supplement Public Use File to estimate the weighted percentages of beneficiaries who had (a) access to telehealth before or during COVID-19; (b) equipment for accessing telehealth; and (c) telehealth visits during COVID-19. We used logistic regression to examine sociodemographic factors associated with telehealth usage.


Participants: Beneficiaries who participated in the MCBS COVID-19 Fall Supplements.


Results: During October and November 2020, telehealth appointments offered by providers were available to 63.8% (95% confidence interval [CI], 61.8-65.9) of Medicare beneficiaries who had accessed medical care by telephone or video. Among those, only 18.0% (95% CI, 16.1-19.9) had been offered telehealth before the pandemic. The majority of beneficiaries (92.2%; 95% CI, 91.2-93.1) had 1 or more types of equipment available for accessing telehealth, but only 44.9% (95% CI, 43.0-46.9) had had a telehealth visit since July 1, 2020. Older adults, minorities, those with a lower income, and non-English speakers had less availability of telehealth equipment. Patient characteristics were significantly (P < .05) associated with telehealth use, including age, sex, race/ethnicity, and equipment availability.


Conclusion: Telehealth availability for Medicare beneficiaries increased substantially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Even with the improvement in telehealth offerings and use hastened by the pandemic, gaps in access and use still exist. Effectiveness and implementation research can find ways to close gaps in telehealth services between vulnerable and underrepresented populations and counterparts.