Can Digital Health Improve Health Equity?

The digital revolution is well underway, but technology needs to reach all sections of the population for it to truly change how care is delivered. As more providers, payers, health systems, and patients adopt digital health systems, can technology provide the way for greater health equity to reduce barriers, improve access, and support a more collaborative connection?

What is Health Equity?
Health equity is when every person can achieve their full health potential, and no one is excluded from health care services due to social factors or pre-determined factors such as race or ethnicity. The result of health inequities can be seen in longevity, disease risk, rates of disability, severity of disease, and access to treatment.

By reducing, challenging, or overcoming these obstacles, people can achieve health equity. But doing so requires a multi-system approach that incorporates adaptive changes from community and healthcare organizations and governments. While health equity can be a lofty goal, small incremental steps are being achieved through new technology and improved regulation to reduce roadblocks.

How Digital Health platforms are improving reach?
Digital health services have demonstrably improved equity in delivering health care services. Technology is making healthcare more proactive and personalized, and with simplified use, its expanding access to quality healthcare for communities that were previously underserved or marginalized. Elements such as digital health apps and telemedicine are helping to deliver health care to previously hard-to-reach communities with the same level and quality of high-end healthcare facilities.

The full impact of digital health is through reducing barriers such as geography and cost to allow physicians to focus on care and spending more time with patients, irrespective of age, gender, race, and location. Digital health also fosters collaboration that supports the delivery of value-focused care while improving health with meaningful outcomes. At present, it’s moving the current system closer to making universal healthcare possible.

Access and Interoperability
A critical component to achieving true health equity starts with platform design and UX criteria that incorporate social determinants of health (SDOH) and design bias. Digital health developers should consider the collection of SDOH data as a core feature of to pursue health equity, considering the various elements that may prohibit access for some and only support the inclusion of others. SDOH data exchange presents a more well-rounded view of what conditions may impact patient health, allowing for personalized and targeted interventions.

Key measures toward improving health equity require greater access for all patients, and the sharing of information across boundaries. Improving digital infrastructure and integrating digital platforms into existing medical systems can help to level the playing field and support sharing of information. As technology adoption has increased, both with providers and patients, more governments and health systems are improving interoperability and supporting an open sharing connection to supporting a collaborative effort toward patient health. But spotty technology connections and rural health deserts continue to pose challenges toward true health equity. Greater investments into wide-spread health services, both in-person and digital, as well as more connectivity among patients and their health support systems are needed to improve upon the recent gains in health equity.

Improvements Needed for the Future

To achieve true health equity, we need to reimagine the fundamentals of integrated healthcare and technology. This means more than just digitalizing traditional models of healthcare delivery. It requires understanding the needs of underrepresented populations, the value of connecting patients and providers, and developing personalized digital solutions that will deliver precise, focused health interventions that address their immediate problems. The wide availability of digital tools, wearables, and apps offer new opportunities to address patient challenges and increase the efficacy and efficiency of care.

Advanced digital technology can ensure health equity in the same way vaccines are delivered in developing countries through the inclusion of digital vaccine certificates verifiable by QR codes. Embraing digital technology provides a way forward toward greater health equity when solutions are designed to meet the needs of all populations as well as increase patient engagement.

To deliver on this will require a shift in the future of healthcare systems and providers with an approach to patient health that combines both clinical and technical skills. Digital has the potential to transform the healthcare landscape by integrating design-thinking tech at every step that helps drive value, improve care, and deliver access to all.

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