Driving Health Equity with Technology
Health equity is defined as the ability to fulfill our human potential in all aspects of health and well-being. It goes beyond access to care. Health equity encompasses clinical, mental, social, emotional, physical, and spiritual health, and is influenced by social, economic, and environmental factors.1
Healthcare organizations have a critical role to play in health equity, as they are not only responsible for delivering care, but can also be advocates for change within the clinician community and the populations in which they serve.
Studies estimate social, economic, and environmental “drivers of health” (also known as social determinants of health) can account for up to 80% of health outcomes, whether positive or negative.2 Discrimination and bias can often cause these drivers to be negative, making it difficult for historically marginalized and low-income groups, or for those with disabilities, to achieve overall well-being.
While poverty and lack of access have long been barriers to health equity around the world, the pandemic has only exacerbated the problem and highlighted the true depth of inequity.
Studies have shown that COVID-19 disproportionately impacts historically marginalized and low-income groups. This has led to poorer health overall than in other parts of the population.
COVID-19 also negatively impacts those with disabilities, pre-existing health conditions, and diseases, by limiting community-based and at-home care opportunities and suicide prevention support.3
Health equity is one of the greatest challenges of our time, and it’s of critical importance that healthcare organizations, governments, and the greater healthcare ecosystem come together to innovate, collaborate, and drive meaningful change, together.
No one person or organization can solve for health inequity alone. It is our collective responsibility to work toward systemic change. In partnership with their communities and trusted digital health technology partners, healthcare providers can move the needle on an equitable healthcare future for all.
Digital healthcare initiatives around the following elements of care equity are at the core of creating an equitable delivery model:
- Improving care access: Care should be accessible anywhere, at any time, in any language, affordably, and in a timely manner
- Improving care process: Prevention, intervention, and post-intervention processes, including notifications and reminders of screenings, tests, and vaccinations – improving nutrition, wellness, sleep, safety, and education are also critical
- Improving delivery of care: Leveraging existing resources in new ways that enable the best possible clinical outcomes
But where should healthcare organizations begin? Which workflows should be prioritized? First, they must aggregate and analyze data to understand the state of health equity within the community they serve. Once they have a deep understanding of the current state, they can begin to map a plan, with technology being used as a critical tool to drive equity initiatives. Organizations must also seek commitment for change from their entire workforce – from the highest levels of leadership to those in direct contact with patients.
One foundational component that healthcare organizations must also consider is the baseline of connectivity within their communities. For technology to effectively drive equitable access to care and ultimately health equity, we must increase connectivity to the internet and educate on basic digital literacy. Globally, 37% of the world population (2.9 billion) remain unconnected.4
Access to technology has greatly increased globally in the past decades, but progress has not been even. Only when people have equal access to connectivity can we fully utilize technology to engage communities and power better health outcomes.
Once connected, digital front door technologies can help expand health education and put information in the hands of patients faster. Proactive patient engagement should be in the patient’s channel of preference (be it voice, video, or text), leading to better engagement and more inclusive care delivery.
Collaboration technologies like Webex Instant Connect can bring care to remote and underserved populations by removing the barrier of location. Real-time translation services can make these virtual consultations more accessible.
EHR-integrated collaboration tools capture data on lifestyle, drivers of health, and clinical information that can be searched and proactively acted upon, thereby improving engagement, frequency, and treatment adherence.
When paired with wearables like RealWear, Webex Expert on Demand can bring critical training and knowledge share to remote locations where surgeries or specialists were not previously available.
For those living with developmental disabilities, technology like remote monitoring, smart notifications, alert services, and smart device integration will provide in-home support and allow for autonomous living.
Now is the time for us to come together as a global society to solve for the systemic inequity that exists within our healthcare systems. We need to drive progress and innovate to further positive health outcomes, equally.
- Mobilizing toward health equity: Action steps for health care organizations, Deloitte
- County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, “County Health Rankings Model,” accessed April 5, 2021; The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, Communities in Action (National Academies Press, 2017)
- 2021 Progress Report: The Impact of COVID-19 on Those With Disabilities, National Council on Disability
- Facts and Figures 2021, The International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the United Nations