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COVID Researchers At UNF Receive Grant From Gates Foundation

doctor looks at computer screen during telehealth session
The Florida Channel
The grant is funding a UNF study into if and why there were disparities in telehealth usage by gender and race during the COVID-19 pandemic.

University of North Florida COVID-19 researchers have been awarded a $39,160 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

University of North Florida COVID-19 researchers have been awarded a $39,160 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The grant is part of the Foundation’s push to help researchers use the COVID-19 Research Database, a de-identified medical database with 85 billion records from 250 million people. UNF’s team is one of 15 groups to receive a grant.

The researchers will use the money to fund “Telehealth Disparity: Investigating the Predictors for Low Utilization among Minority Populations.” Its aim is to uncover if and why there are disparities across gender and racial group access to telehealth, said Dr. Cynthia Williams, one of the researchers and an associate professor at UNF’s Brooks College of Health in Jacksonville.

While telehealth allowed people to have virtual doctors appointments during the pandemic, Williams said that access only extends to people who have access to technology.

“While we can stipulate that technology enables access to care, it may not provide access to care to those who are already disenfranchised, just because we are involving technology” Williams said.

According to the Pew Research Center, minority groups in the US are less likely to have access to home broadband. Seventy-one percent of Black residents and 65% of Hispanic residents have access to home broadband. Eighty percent of white residents have access.

The team will use the funding to bring on research assistants to help compile the database’s claims data to find disparities in telehealth appointments across those groups, as well as outcomes with said appointments. Williams expects the study to be completed by the end of the year.

She said she hopes the study will help experts make care more equitable.

“As we look to enhance access to care, using technology, this study will go, I think, a long way to inform decision makers how best to do that,” Williams said.

Tristan Wood can be reached at newsteam@wjct.orgor on Twitter at @TristanDWood.

Copyright 2021 WJCT News 89.9