By Edith Lee, LCSW, vice president, Americares.
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, free and charitable clinics across the country quickly pivoted to telehealth to keep staff, volunteers and patients safe. A year later, the ability to provide low-income, uninsured patients with a new, more convenient way to connect with their care team has been embraced by healthcare providers and patients alike.
There’s a good reason for this almost universal adoption. Telehealth facilitates virtual video appointments with providers using a patient’s computer or smartphone. It’s a game changer for patients with transportation or mobility issues as well as those working multiple jobs or in need of childcare, or in many cases, both.
The National Association of Free & Charitable Clinics reports 67 percent of free and charitable clinics across the country successfully implemented telehealth services in response to the pandemic. Many other safety net clinics so vital for the healthcare of underserved communities in the U.S., would do they same but they are still struggling to find the funding, training and the technical assistance necessary to make telehealth viable at their facilities.
The reality is, a third of free and charitable clinics in this country have operating budgets of less than $100,000. Many rely on volunteer providers and staff, and most simply don’t have the technical or financial resources to pivot to telemedicine.
Yet for the low-income communities they serve, telehealth increases access to care. It provides patients with the flexibility to attend appointments without having to miss work and lose much-needed income, coordinate childcare, or find reliable transportation—barriers that often stand in the way of low-income patients and their healthcare.