Digital Health is removing barriers to health equity
Digital health solutions have shown to improve access, connectivity, and health care results. It’s also helping to increase health equity by creating better solutions for people who face challenges in access and better outcomes. The availability of digital health solutions and platforms are helping to make inroads to meet the needs and goals of patients who are often underserved by traditional models.
Language barriers have been shown to negatively impact important outcomes, including overall patient health, quality of care and patient and provider satisfaction. Language barriers can also exacerbate other health inequities. But recent investments in digital health tools are helping to reduce language barriers and bring non-English speaking communities into the fold.
Recent surveys found that non-English speakers are turning to digital health channels such as online chat, text messaging, provider portals, and smartphone applications to manage their health. People who speak another language at home seem to favor asynchronous forms of communication. As these communication channels become more mainstream, providers are retooling their approach to incorporate non-English speakers. Non-native English speakers make up 20% of the U.S. population, so providing digital options providers can help minimize language barriers, particularly when translation services are not an option.
Access to providers and support
Digital health also makes it possible to expand care teams beyond traditional geographic boundaries. With telemedicine, the new normal can enable state-of-the-art medical knowledge to be delivered locally for the patient. Virtual care models can include doctor-to-doctor consults that reduce disparities in care for patients, particularly in rural or economically disadvantaged locations where physician shortages make it difficult or impossible to staff an in-person multidisciplinary team. Project ECHO is one example of this approach and has contributed measurably to better health outcomes in several contexts.
Digital health can also be used to strengthen relationships between individuals and their care team, as well as among care team members. New patient connectivity apps and remote patient monitoring allow for patients to convalesce at home while be monitored by providers through a digital solution or loved ones can check on the status of a patient’s medication history through a portal or smartphone solution. Being apart no longer means patients must settle for substandard care.
Digital health is helping to improve health equity by also connecting patients to available financial assistance programs, built directly into the platform. A prominent example is the direct-to-consumer model that allows patients to seek care and medication therapy without the requirement of health insurance. Models such as Roman allow patients to connect with physicians via telemedicine and receive medication therapy for reproductive health issues all within a single platform. Similar models are being used for mental health services and dermatology.
Additionally, pharma organizations offer discount services on medications to help reduce the health inequities for patients and are teaming up with digital health providers to make those services directly available within the digital platform. Patients using Medisafe can track their medications, sign up for discount programs and financial assistance programs, and order refill medications all through the app. GoodRx and AmazonRx offer similar program to help patient afford their medications all through a digital health channel.
As digital health technologies become common place within the new health care ecosystem, providers and healthcare systems have an unprecedented opportunity to improve health equity and develop new solutions to entrenched healthcare problems. This starts by considering how inequities in access limit the number of “reachable” patients and by determining which dimension of health inequity their solution could address. Those who embrace digital innovaton will move the needle on health equity and improve the lives of patients.