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Age and sex-related comparison of referral-based telemedicine service utilization during the COVID-19 pandemic in Ontario: a retrospective analysis.

BACKGROUND: The COVID-19 pandemic has led to increased utilization of telemedicine services.

METHODS: A retrospective analysis of all referral-based ambulatory telemedicine services in Ontario from November 2019 to June 2021 was collected from the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) billing database. Only fee-for-service billings were included in the present analysis. Coincident COVID-19 cases were obtained from Public Health Ontario. Comparisons were made based on age bracket, sex, telemedicine and in-person care.

RESULTS: Billings for telemedicine services in Ontario increased from $1.7 million CAD in November 2019 to $64 million CAD in April 2020 and the proportions reached a mean peak of 72% in April 2020 and declined to 46% in June 2021. A positive correlation was found between the use of telemedicine and COVID-19 cases (p = 0.05). The age group with the highest proportion of telemedicine use was the 10-20-year-olds, followed by the 20-50-year-olds (61 ± 9.0%, 55 ± 7.3%, p = 0.01). Both age groups remained above 50% telemedicine services at the end of the study period. There seemed to be higher utilization by females (females 54.2 ± 8.0%, males 47.9 ± 7.7%, ANCOVA p = 0.05) for all specialties, however, after adjusting for male to female ratio m:f of 0.952:1.0 according to the 2016 census, this was no longer significant.

CONCLUSIONS: The use of telemedicine services remained at a high level across groups, particularly the 10-50-year-olds. There were clear age preferences for using telemedicine. Studying these differences may provide insights into how the delivery of non-hospital-based medicine has changed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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