Facilitators of and barriers to accessing hospital medical specialty telemedicine consultations during the COVID-19 Pandemic: systematic review

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BACKGROUND: The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the digital transition in health care, which required a rapid adaptation for stakeholders. Telemedicine has emerged as an ideal tool to ensure continuity of care by allowing remote access to specialized medical services. However, its rapid implementation has exacerbated disparities in health care access, especially for the most susceptible populations. OBJECTIVE: We aimed to characterize the determinant factors (facilitators and barriers) of access to hospital medical specialty telemedicine consultations during the COVID-19 pandemic and to identify the main opportunities and challenges (technological, ethical, legal, and social) generated by the use of telemedicine in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. METHODS: We conducted a systematic review according to PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses) guidelines. A total of 4 databases (Scopus, Web of Science, PubMed, and Cochrane COVID-19 Study Register) were searched for empirical studies published between January 3, 2020, and December 31, 2021, using established criteria. The protocol of this review was registered and published in PROSPERO (CRD42022302825). A methodological quality assessment was performed, and the results were integrated into a thematic synthesis. The identification of the main opportunities and challenges was done by interpreting and aggregating the thematic synthesis results. RESULTS: Of the 106 studies identified, 9 met the inclusion criteria and the intended quality characteristics. All studies were originally from the United States. The following facilitating factors of telemedicine use were identified: health insurance coverage; prevention of SARS-CoV-2 infection; access to internet services; access to technological devices; better management of work-life balance; and savings in travel costs. We identified the following barriers to telemedicine use: lack of access to internet services; lack of access to technological devices; racial and ethnic disparities; low digital literacy; low income; age; language barriers; health insurance coverage; concerns about data privacy and confidentiality; geographic disparities; and the need for complementary diagnostic tests or the delivery of test results. CONCLUSIONS: The facilitating factors and barriers identified in this systematic review present different opportunities and challenges, including those of a technological nature (access to technological devices and internet services and level of digital literacy), a sociocultural and demographic nature (ethnic and racial disparities, geographic disparities, language barriers, and age), a socioeconomic nature (income level and health insurance coverage), and an ethical and legal nature (data privacy and confidentiality). To expand telemedicine access to hospital-based specialty medical consultations and provide high-quality care to all, including the most susceptible communities, the challenges identified must be thoroughly researched and addressed with informed and dedicated responses.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere44188
Pages (from-to)e44188
JournalJournal of Medical Internet Research
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jul 2023


  • barriers
  • COVID-19
  • facilitators
  • health services accessibility
  • hospitals
  • telemedicine


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