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Alexa Barton



Impact of COVID-19 and Telehealth Care on Immigrant Communities: A Qualitative Study

Alexa Barton, Florida International University

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the lives of individuals around the globe. We have seen spikes in hate crimes against individuals of Asian and Pacific Islander descent, as well as immigrant populations in general, as a result of racist and xenophobic rhetoric related to the COVID-19 virus. Beyond the racial tensions that have arisen over the course of the past year, the health care system has also had to shift significantly to allow for telehealth care visits and access. These two major shifts that emerged as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, made me consider how the two issues may intersect to impact the immigrant healthcare experience in the United States. I wanted to understand how having the barrier of a computer screen between the patient and the healthcare provider could affect immigrant individuals seeking out healthcare. Could being able to speak with a healthcare provider from the safety of their homes be beneficial for immigrant patients? Could the added layer of anonymity due to not being physically in front of the patient cause doctors to be less compassionate toward immigrant patients? How might a patient’s country of origin or route of migration impact the quality of care they receive?

Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 restrictions, I had to scale the study back and use a sample of college students instead of healthcare providers. In the amended study, a sample of college students were exposed to an experimental stimulus and asked questions regarding their social policy attitudes, global orientations, and attitudes toward immigrants. The experimental stimulus consisted of an immigrant telling their migration story to the U.S. The immigrant was either from Haiti, Mexico, or Russia and either migrated to the U.S. legally as an adult, undocumented as a child, or was born in the U.S. to an undocumented mother and raised in another country. Data collection is still in progress; however, preliminary analyses have revealed significant relationships between social policy attitudes, global orientations, and attitudes toward immigrants. Individuals who support more progressive social policies and are more open to learning about and participating in different cultures harbor more positive attitudes toward immigrants. Conversely, individuals who support more conservative social policy attitudes and are less willing to engage in cultures outside of their own harbor more negative attitudes toward immigrants. It will be interesting to see how the experimental stimulus impacts individuals’ attitudes toward immigrants, but the statistical power is not strong enough yet to determine that relationship.

Although the study had to be amended, I still hope to investigate the impact of telehealth care on immigrant patients in the future. The shift toward virtual communication as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic is a change that will likely persist beyond the pandemic. Thus, it is of vital importance that we understand how virtual communication may impact the immigrant healthcare experience in the U.S. Healthcare providers should be aware of their implicit biases that may be exacerbated by the barrier of a computer screen.

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