Amidst a heady landscape of digital health innovation and the pursuit of disruption through far-reaching digital transformation, many of America’s most forward-looking healthcare organizations are working aggressively to better leverage the technology at their disposal to democratize access to care.
While it might seem logical that offering patient customers increased access to expanded mobile health, telemedicine, and virtual care treatment modalities translate into better outcomes for patients, many providers are finding the digital divide does not support health equity by reinforcing differences between the varying degrees of comfort different demographic groups feel with using new digital health services.
As the evidence base continues to mount, it is clear that not all patient customers are reaping the same benefits from the digital health revolution. Customers with high degrees of digital literacy and comfort are far better positioned to leverage virtual care technologies to support better outcomes in their interactions with the clinical teams tasked with overseeing their care.
However, to better support, the democratization of healthcare across the digital health landscape, technology vendors, healthcare organizations, and other stakeholders connected to patient success metrics must work in concert to create meaningful training and development initiatives to ensure underserved populations achieve awareness, engagement, and increased mastery using new innovative services across the virtual care ecosystems of the providers they work with.
Leveraging the Power of Technology to Support Greater Health Equity
In a more perfect healthcare landscape of opportunity, patient health information will be better leveraged to reduce costs and provide customers with the increased utility to take stewardship of their access to their medical providers. Clinical teams will be able to use data-driven insights to direct better outcomes by reducing inefficiencies of scale and driving better synergies between the interlocking pieces that make up the patient journey through their healthcare network’s digital ecosystem.
To truly support greater health equity and the democratization of care models across the digital health revolution, it becomes essential for healthcare leaders to gain real-time visibility into the barriers to care keeping certain demographic groups within their patient cohorts from achieving the same benefit and utility as others.
Moving beyond empty promises and executing an enterprise healthcare strategy that truly leaves no patient beyond is a hugely compelling marquee defining vision that few organizations can truly claim in our current fragmented landscape of care, some three years into a global pandemic, and the largest change initiatives ever considered across our industry.
To overcome the digital divide that limits traditionally marginalized and underserved populations from reaping the same benefits of the digital health revolution, it is essential for healthcare leaders to spend considered time developing and executing strategies for better engaging, educating, and invigorating patient cohorts to see the benefit in the technologies being presented to them.
Change is never simple and implementing robust virtual care service provisioning is extremely complex but at the same time, there is so much to be gained from harnessing the potential of the moment to truly improve the quality of care for all patients and empowering better outcomes among traditionally marginalized and underserved demographic groups.
To overcome the digital divide limiting healthcare equity and access, it is essential for healthcare organizations to take a long and considered look at the messaging and communication efforts of their organizations to ensure they are allocating necessary resources towards supporting inclusion and access for all the patients in their care.
More than a decade into the digital health revolution, it’s time for a reckoning about a chief shortcoming of our industry: leaving too many people behind. Part of the promise of innovators joining the fight to improve health care was that by expanding the ways people can receive care, we could increase access and help equalize the health care system for more patients.
But we still see reports about how digital and virtual solutions continue to leave many vulnerable populations behind. Fragmented point solutions, incomplete data, and bias in our system have drawn a line in the sand between those who benefit from health innovation and those who are missing out.
That’s not to discount the fact that this surge of innovation has connected more people to care for than ever before, and has given many populations a greater ability to receive care at home, which has been especially critical during a global pandemic. But those accomplishments haven’t been enough to truly democratize digital health and get these innovations into the hands of everyone who needs them. Doing so requires us as innovators and leaders to ask ourselves what steps we can take to bring more people, especially historically marginalized populations, into this new era of digital health evolution.
This reinforces the need for digital health technologies to truly deliver complete end-to-end scalable solutions that can be configured to match the needs of diverse patient populations and honed to the real-world issues customers are facing.
Currently, more work needs to be done to ensure that the leading digital health solutions are affordable for all Americans and remain within the reach of not only corporate decision-makers but also our vibrant small business communities. It’s simply not enough for digital health services to be high-value, they must also truly be cost-competitive and malleable to meet the needs of a more diverse range of patient populations.
Identifying, Engaging and Working to Better Serve Our Marginalized Patient Demographic Cohorts
Our healthcare organizations know first and foremost that those of lower socioeconomic backgrounds, hailing from rural communities, and populations of color carry some of the highest chronic disease burdens resulting in much more expensive interventions that weigh heavily on our care networks. Yet, we are seeing far greater adoption of digital health services among younger, more educated, and wealthier patient demographic groups.
The United States Health Resources and Services Administration found that some 87 million Americans live in areas identified as locations experiencing measurable healthcare professional skills shortages limiting access to high-quality care. Remote and virtual care service provisioning offers a tantalizing means of addressing these geographic shortfalls by better connecting patients to the resources and expertise they need to support greater health and wellness.
We must work across the industry to ensure that the underserved rural population receives increased access to broadband services and the support needed to harness the full potential of these opportunities. Additionally, it is essential to work with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to ensure vulnerable populations are not being left out of the burgeoning digital health ecosystems developing around them and largely without their input as patient consumers.
On the technology side, it is essential to support the development of easy-to-use and understand user interfaces that meet patient populations where they are and work to increase the utility and mastery to be gained from using new virtual and digital services.
It takes a healthy dose of compassion and a dash of pragmatism to ensure that our healthcare technologies take customer preferences, social determinants of health, and cultural preferences at the face and integrate these considerations into treatment modalities that will lead to better and ultimately less costly healthcare interventions.
As an industry, it is not essential to completely abandon what has already worked to better help target health interventions for marginalized populations but there is a lot to be gained from implementing an equity customized care approach to better optimize existing tools to deliver more equitable outcomes for underserved populations.
Our expanded data analysis capabilities provide the methods to gain insight into whether or not our digital health solutions reinforce existing biases or truly invigorate diverse patient cohorts to make the most of virtual care. Healthcare networks must continue to prioritize using universal screening tools to identify at-risk populations and engage them earlier in the intervention process. The key is supporting the development of services that make better use of data to democratize access to care and truly support greater health equity.
As we enter the next stage of the digital health revolution, we must work across the healthcare industry to identify gaps in access to care and promote the evolution of digital services that offer more equitable person-centered care models for all the patient customers in our communities.
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Published: June 29, 2022
Topics: Health Equity