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PUBLICATION: Telehealth was beneficial during COVID-19 for older Americans: A qualitative study with physicians

IS-2 Scholar, Roland C. Merchant, MD, MPH, ScDis, (2020 Cohort) was senior author of the recently published work in the Journal of American Geriatrics Society – Telehealth was beneficial during COVID-19 for older Americans: A qualitative study with physicians.



Individuals aged 65 and older face unique barriers to adoption of telehealth, and the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic has provided a “natural experiment” in how to meet the health needs of older patients remotely. Physician perspectives on practical considerations surrounding telehealth adoption, motivations of use, and reasons for nonuse are necessary to inform the future of healthcare delivery. The objective is to understand the experiences of physicians using telemedicine for older patients.


From September to November 2020, we conducted 30-min semi-structured interviews using purposeful sampling to identify and enroll participants from diverse settings. We included 48 U.S.-based physicians (geriatrician, n = 18, primary care, n = 15, emergency, n = 15) from all geographic regions, rural–urban and academic/community settings. Audio-recorded interviews were professionally transcribed and analyzed using framework analysis. Major themes and subthemes were identified. 


Participants had a median (interquartile range) age of 37.5 (34–44.5), 27 (56%) were women. Five major themes emerged: (1) telehealth uptake was rapid and iterative, (2) telehealth improved the safety of medical care, (3) use cases were specialty-specific (for geriatricians and primary care physicians telehealth substituted for in-person visits; for emergency physicians it primarily supplemented in-person visits), (4) physicians altered clinical care to overcome older patient barriers to telehealth use, and (5) telehealth use among physicians declined in mid-April 2020, due primarily to patient needs and administrator preferences, not physician factors.


In this qualitative analysis, physicians reported a rapid, iterative uptake of telehealth and attenuation of use as coronavirus disease 2019 prevalence declined. Physician experiences during the pandemic can inform interventions and policies to help buoy telehealth for ongoing healthcare delivery and ensure its accessibility for older Americans. 

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