While we would love to believe that everyone has equal opportunity to thrive and live happy lives in this country, the truth is that these are privileges only a select few have. In the United States, not everyone has equal access to healthcare, or the ability to live a healthy life, due to their life and economic circumstances.
Health disparities are a huge problem in America. Many different social factors go into who gets access to things like preventative care and healthy food—and who doesn’t.
So, what can we do about these inequalities? How can we begin to fix complex health disparities and ensure that everyone has the chance to be healthy? Technology might be able to help.
What Are Health Disparities?
Health disparities describe inequalities between different groups of people based on factors like socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, gender, income, education, region, and disability. Many groups are excluded or discriminated against in healthcare settings and other situations impacting health and wellness.
For instance, people who cannot afford to pay for private health insurance must rely on government programs, which may limit access to quality care, thus making it more difficult to see a doctor and receive treatment. Other groups have trouble with language barriers or implicit biases among healthcare.
Yet another issue causing health disparities is access to healthy food. Many people live in food deserts, without access to transportation. Without that access, many Americans develop chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease.
Health disparities are complex and involve many social factors. People who are affected by disparities are often part of more than one group that is excluded from standard health and wellness resources. With that in mind, we must harness the power of technology to begin reducing these glaring inequalities.
How Big Data Is Helping Identify & Assess Health Disparities
In order to fix disparities, we have to understand what we’re dealing with. While it is possible to see patterns of inequality by manually analyzing health data, it is a laborious process that takes a very long time and may not catch all of the connections. Additionally, manual analysis makes it more difficult for healthcare institutions to collaborate and communicate about their findings.
Big data can be a huge help in identifying and assessing health disparities. Using these tools to analyze health data can yield causes and connections that would be difficult to find using traditional methods. Big data can reveal demographic factors that are linked to health risks, exclude false connections, and help to create a more complete picture of the health of different populations. By using big data, health researchers can begin to create real solutions for solving health disparities.
EHRs Improving Patient Education
Today, almost all healthcare organizations in the United States have fully switched over to EHRs (Electronic Health Records) for their patients. EHRs help to coordinate care, reduce errors, and improve outcomes for patients. In addition, they can play an educational role in the lives of people who are affected by health disparities.
Patients who are educated about their health can look out for warning signs and get treatment earlier than those who don’t know what to look for. In addition to EHRs helping to keep patients up-to-date with their current health and medical history, after-visit summaries also can contain automatically-generated information on related health issues, wellness, and other health topics. This kind of education can help underserved populations stay healthier and safer between visits.
Telehealth Boosting Access to Treatment for All Populations
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed life for nearly every American, leading to the widespread use of videoconferencing technology in a wide variety of situations. It has also sped up the rise of telehealth, a service that could help to reduce disparities by providing enhanced convenience and support for patients who have trouble attending in-person medical appointments.
In addition to allowing patients to attend follow-up appointments and ask questions without traveling to a doctor, telehealth can protect at-risk patients from entering a hospital facility and give patients greater access to their doctors. Some physicians are also looking to telehealth as a way to support patients in maintaining a healthy diet and other lifestyle changes.
Technology has the potential to reduce or even fix many of the health disparities our nation is facing. But to achieve that reality, we all need to be fighting for equal access and support.