Benefits and Challenges of Telehealth Use during COVID-19

Perspectives of Patients and Providers in the Rural South


  • Dana DeHart University of South Carolina
  • Aidyn Iachini University of South Carolina
  • L. Bailey King University of South Carolina
  • Elana LeCleir University of South Carolina
  • Melissa Reitmeier University of South Carolina
  • Teri Browne University of South Carolina



Telehealth, COVID-19, patient perspectives, rural health care


Social workers and other health care researchers have examined benefits and challenges of telehealth in rural communities before the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, experience with virtual platforms and other technologies have rapidly evolved during the pandemic. The research team interviewed 14 health care providers and 17 patients after the onset of the pandemic in a predominantly rural state to examine perceptions of telehealth. MaxQDA analytic software was used to identify benefits and challenges in the use of telehealth. Findings identified commonly discussed benefits of telehealth including convenience for patients, increasing patient access to care, improved patient experience of care, and ability of telehealth to attract/retain patients. Challenges identified in this study included concerns about quality of care being compromised, patients’ comfort and access to technology, policy challenges for providers, and the impersonal nature of telehealth visits. Persistent issues warrant research, education, and policy advocacy to improve access for rural populations. Social workers should play a key role in educating the emerging and existing workforce around barriers such as quality of care and patient comfort with technology, convening professionals and patients to establish sustained and effective reimbursement models, and advocating for structural access via enhanced broadband and other resource allocations.


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