Presented by Optum
Tech innovation is a boon for healthcare delivery — but has also created a digital divide in which the marginalized are shut out of the health care system. Learn why closing the digital divide is a win for both patients and health orgs in this VB On Demand event.
The adoption of digital tools and technologies in healthcare is surging — but while the promise of health technology is enormous, it has also only exacerbated the inequities that have always existed among underserved, marginalized, and vulnerable populations. Prioritizing healthcare technology equity (or “techquity”) is crucial, before the gap between marginalized populations and their access to healthcare grows too large.
“Access to digital tools is a huge issue across healthcare,” says Michael Thompson, chief of staff and VP for systems improvement at Bassett Healthcare. “It’s about how our patients and how our communities can gain access to the tools that are redefining health delivery. Thinking about digital inequities, and how we’re delivering care to our patients is at the forefront of some of the conversations that help us shape our strategies and our transformation activities.”
Technology has been a double-edged sword for many organizations, he adds. The advancements in technology, especially the sophistication of the data modeling and analytics tools, are continuously transforming the way care is delivered. But at the same time, every advancement requires an organization to evaluate if its internal and community infrastructures are in a position to fully support it.
Keeping people front and center
Bassett Healthcare, as a rural health system in upstate New York, provides care for a broad swath of the state. But across this rural domain, there are significant shortages of internet and cell access, very limited transportation options for those without cars, housing insecurity, language barriers and sometimes no translation services. With a diverse and far-flung population, the organization needs to find ways to leverage technology to make care more available and accessible for its communities, Thompson says.
“There are tremendous opportunities with better risk prediction, better transitions between appointments, and better readmission reduction, which should be a benefit to all community members, but we can’t just solely automate and commoditize care delivery,” Thompson says. “It takes people caring for people. We want our technology to be augmenting us to enable us to address the staffing and workforce challenge head on. The focus of technology needs to be on reducing workloads on our caregivers and our practitioners.”
If a patient population doesn’t have internet access, their experience in accessing care not only requires training and skill development with the patient population, but having healthcare workers on the ground actually helping them understand their technology. And as new technologies appear and evolve, it’s essential to keep the people behind those technologies front and center.
“That connection, that augmentation of clinicians with technology, is what’s so important for us to be able to both address this access issue and deal with workforce challenges at the same time,” he says. “But it’s critical that new advancements in insight management are not creating undue burdens on an already overstretched care delivery system, replacing one bit of work with a new one.”
Identifying and addressing the divide
As the health tech industry moves forward, the number of infrastructure challenges for continuous monitoring and connectedness will grow. More and more data is required to feed the AI and ML models that predict risk and other key metrics, and to ensure techquity across the community, that continuous data must to capture the real-world demographics.
Thompson’s team work with their payers to share data that can identify and evaluate target populations, and also in the process of developing a more discreet and detailed digital map of the social determinants of health. And with the help of partners, payers, and their Optum analytics enablement, they’ve started to dig deeper to identify these inequities in their populations. They’re also leveraging the strong relationships the organization has within the community to have important conversations with community leaders and with patient family advisory councils, to listen to the needs of their patients.
“Investing in the social determinants of health digital mapping is enabling us to target our strategies and work on new types of community programs with our payers,” he says. “We’re collaboratively tackling these digital inequity challenges, especially as the amount of technology out there in the environment increases.”
The growing number of digital tools, patient portals and digital front door technologies for patients to navigate to care means that continuous communication with individual patients and digital literacy training is also critical. These patients need to understand that these tools exist to help them reach the care they need faster, their data is safe, and their care is still in the hands of human caregivers.
As the work continues, Thompson’s team is trying to think creatively about the infrastructure needs of this area, exploring things like community-based grants to fund different ideas and different services, increasing legislative advocacy to make sure that the needs of rural medicine and rural care are on the docket for the state of New York at the national level, and more.
Overall, continuous improvement is key — and the data is out there, he says. So it’s important to build a data map and do the work to ensure that community needs are guiding technology aims. It’s also important to work collaboratively with payers and communities to share in the investments and infrastructure challenges.
“I believe we’re all trying to aim for ubiquity in health delivery,” he says. “We’re making sure that the digital divide and health inequities are being thought of as ways that we can improve quality of care for all of our populations, and ultimately reduce the total cost of care for everyone.”
To learn more about the causes of health care inequities, how healthcare leaders can address the gaps and move the organization forward and more, don’t miss this VB On Demand event.
- How to build a data-driven map that identifies the health literacy, digital access and social determinants that impact digital engagement and outcomes
- How to align your efforts with the cultural, social and economic environments experienced by the people you serve
- Ideas for addressing the root causes that create barriers to health—and where simple digital solutions can close gaps
- How to offer simple choices to ensure a consumer’s digital experience is consistent across the health journey
- Duncan Greenberg, VP of Product, Oscar Health
- Michael Thompson,VP, Chief of Staff, Systems Improvement, Bassett Healthcare Network
- John Li, Senior Director, Clinical Analytics and Product Solutions, OptumInsight
- Tushar Mehrotra, SVP of Data & Analytics, OptumInsight