digital health equity

What is healthcare equity? How will digital make an impact?

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Author: Beth Strohbusch, Head of Marketing, Equiva

Over the past several decades, various entities and individuals have defined equity (and health inequity) in various ways. According to the US Centers for Disease Control’s National Center for Chronic Disease and Promotion,

Health equity is achieved when every person has the opportunity to “attain his or her full health potential” and no one is “disadvantaged from achieving this potential because of social position or other socially determined circumstances.” Health inequities are reflected in differences in length of life; quality of life; rates of disease, disability, and death; severity of disease; and access to treatment.

Variation also exists when describing health disparities and when referencing the oft-used term, Social Determinants of Health (SDOH.) Googlers searching with “how many social determinants of health” will see references to anywhere between four and 12. 

Authors writing about these topics also seek to delineate between the words “equity” and “equality.”

We recently read an article from Tulane University’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine titled “What is Healthcare Equity?”  We recommend it as a resource to provide a solid overview of these concepts — especially for individuals who may have a limited understanding of “healthcare equity.”   

The Tulane authors include these core tenants: 

  • Every person deserves to live a healthy life. 
  • Due to social, economic, and environmental factors, not everyone has access to health care and proper health education. 
  • The aim of healthcare equity is to ensure that everyone can access affordable, culturally competent health care regardless of:
    • Race
    • Ethnicity
    • Age
    • Ability
    • Sex
    • Gender identity or expression
    • Sexual orientation
    • Nationality
    • Socioeconomic status
    • Geographical location (i.e., rural or urban)

Our team of professionals at Equiva fully supports these key concepts.

Tulane authors also cite several statistics:

  • Native Americans have a life expectancy that is 4.4 years less than that of Americans of all other races
  • When studies control for age, location, education, and class status, Black Americans have been found to die sooner and suffer more preventable illnesses compared with white Americans.
  • Black infant mortality is 250% higher than white infant mortality.
  • Black mothers are at least three times more likely than white mothers to die in childbirth.
  • In rural communities, efforts to increase health equity may involve use of mobile services. According to recent research of 300 mobile health clinics self-report as follows:
    • 56% specifically aimed to serve uninsured patients
    • 55% targeted low-income patients
    • 38% catered to homeless patients
    • 36% targeted rural patients

Some professionals on team Equiva have worked in healthcare for a significant portion of their careers. Some have not. Yet all of us are deeply concerned, in fact often startled, when we hear and read about these real-world disparities. 

Healthcare professionals must keep pushing for equity in healthcare, state the article’s authors. “Harnessing creative, population-specific technologies and service offerings can connect more patients to providers for health support,” they write. 

We agree wholeheartedly. And we believe that in order to truly tip the scales, digital health solutions must be readily accessible, extremely easy to use and affordable — for patients, loved ones, clinicians, and healthcare organizations.  

An example of this is a recent FCC COVID Telehealth Program-funded project where we collaborated with a team of researchers at Mount Sinai Kravis Children’s Hospital to provide hundreds of tablet devices along with broadband allowances to patient families in the early days of COVID. 

“Because we were going to be sending these devices to patients’ homes, we really needed them to work right out of the box,” said Eyal Shemesh, M.D., Professor of Pediatrics and Psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and chief of the Division of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics. “Mount Sinai’s teams treat an incredibly diverse patient population — racially, ethnically and economically — and our care providers are well aware of the digital divide among some patients who don’t have Wi-Fi, don’t have tablets and may not have digital literacy. We simply had to make it work for all of our patients, especially those who are disadvantaged.”

Users see three circle icons after turning on the tablet. They touch one to access telemedicine visits, one to access educational materials, and one to take surveys. From there, they can easily and delve deeper into each category for more options. Over the course of our decade-plus years or building digital tech solutions, we’ve focused on making it super easy for patients to navigate, and incredibly flexible for the organization to add and remove content, functionality and applications.

“As with any technology offering, Mount Sinai expected some patients to have tech support questions, so we worked with them to set up a helpline. After thousands of patient interactions on the devices, we’ve had only six calls,” Shemesh reports. “It’s astounding.”

Read more about this Mount Sinai initiative here.

PS:  We congratulate Tulane Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine on their recently launched Partners for Advancing Health Equity (P4HE Collaborative,)a collaborative designed to spark discussion, share learning, foster collaboration, and facilitate resource exchange for the promotion of action-oriented health equity research, practice, and policies. Part of the Tulane Institute for Innovations in Health Equity, the P4HE program is supported by the ICF and funded by a $2.9 million grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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