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ASH 2021: Dr. Deborah Stephens on Racial Disparities in Telemedicine Uptake During the COVID-19 Pandemic Among Patients with Blood Cancers

This content was current as of the date it was released. In science and medicine, information is constantly changing and may become out-of-date as new data emerge.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been incredibly disruptive to patients and the healthcare system. Doctors and patients have had to find new ways of working together so everyone can remain as safe as possible. As part of this disruption, there has been a shift to telemedicine visits, where patients meet with their healthcare providers by video or phone as an alternative to in-person visits. However, access to telemedicine may not be the same for all patients

At the annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology (ASH) 2021, Dr. Matthew Davids, Associate Director of the Center for Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL) at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, MA, interviewed Dr. Deborah Stephens, a CLL specialist at the University of Utah Huntsman Cancer Institute. They discussed results from a study looking at racial disparities in the use of telemedicine during the COVID-19 pandemic.


  • This study used a national database of de-identified patient information to look at telemedicine use among patients with blood cancers.
  • Approximately 18,000 patients with various blood cancers participated, including those with CLL / SLL, and about 2,000 of the participants self-identified as Black.
  • Throughout the pandemic, there was no change for in-person visit rates amongst Black patients, regardless of whether they received oral or inpatient treatments.
  • In-person visit rates for White patients receiving oral treatments decreased, accompanied by increased use of telemedicine visits.
  • In-person visit rates for White patients receiving inpatient treatments did not change.
  • Overall, when all diseases and treatment categories were combined, telemedicine uptake was significantly higher for White patients compared with Black patients.
  • This data shows that Black patients were less likely to utilize telemedicine visits, but the current study doesn’t have detailed enough data to determine why that might be the case.
  • Healthcare providers should be aware that this disparity exists and assist patients with accessing virtual visits if needed.


It is well known that there are racial disparities in health care and health outcomes, but the reasons behind this are numerous and complex. Telemedicine visits provide a safe and convenient option for regular follow-up with healthcare providers, especially for patients who may be immunocompromised. However, Black patients are not utilizing this option to the same extent as White patients, so it may be necessary for providers to further discuss this available option with their patients.

Please enjoy this interview with Dr. Stephens from the ASH meeting held in December 2021 from Atlanta, GA.

You can read the actual abstract here: Racial Disparities in Telemedicine Uptake during the COVID-19 Pandemic Among Patients with Hematologic Malignancies in the United States

Take care of yourself first.

Ann Liu, PhD