In the last few decades, our ability to collect and process data has given us access to some eye-opening insights and statistics. Health disparities have been a problem throughout human history, but in our modern society with access to advanced technology and data, these issues have been coming to light.
Vulnerable populations in the United States often do not have access to quality healthcare, putting them at even greater risk. Race, income level, education, and other factors all play into who has access to the best doctors and hospitals. These disparities are fundamentally unfair and make life harder for a huge number of Americans.
While we have a long way to go in eliminating health disparities, the good news is that we have technology on our side. Big data has made us aware of just how bad these disparities have gotten. Other innovative tech solutions can help us solve them.
Current State of Health Disparities in the United States
People can be excluded from getting the care they need for many different reasons. In theory, everyone who walks into a doctor’s office or emergency room should get the same high level of care, but factors like gender, disability, race, income, and sexual orientation often affect access to certain types of care or simply a lower standard of care overall.
These disparities have led to sobering health risks for people belonging to underserved communities. For example, Black Americans are almost 7 times more likely to be HIV+ than White Americans. Hispanic Americans are three times more likely than Caucasian Americans to be affected. Obesity rates, high blood pressure, alcohol-related liver disease, and other serious health problems are more common among these groups as well.
Americans living in rural areas and Native groups living on reservations have far less access to quality medical facilities. People with low incomes are often unable to afford insurance. Mental healthcare, maternal mortality, and many other metrics show that people are suffering or dying due to persistent health disparities.
Telemedicine and VR
For people who live in rural areas or lack access to personal transportation, simply getting to the doctor can be a massive struggle. When faced with the prospect of going to the doctor, getting time off of work to navigate public transit or drive a few hours each way might be impossible. Many people choose to ignore their symptoms until they have progressed too far.
Telemedicine and VR (virtual reality) are helping to solve this issue by improving access to care and treatment options. Patients can consult with their doctors over the phone or video chat and find out if they can take care of their concerns at home or if it’s necessary to come in for an appointment.
VR is also helping to train health professionals and educate patients. Healthcare workers can experience disease simulation to develop empathy and understanding, which can help improve patient outcomes.
Electronic Health Records Incorporating Screening Questions
Electronic health records (EHR) have become integral in providing personalized, coordinated care. But there are other applications for this technology that could help to reduce health disparities for patients. Screening questions, combined with big data and machine learning systems, identify risk and potential disparities to ensure that people get the assistance they require.
By using screening questions designed to see which specific needs patients might have, EHR can serve to personalize and coordinate care efficiently and discreetly. Patients who need help from a social worker or other specialized services can simply answer the questions and receive the resources they need.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, health disparities have only grown. The silver lining in this situation is that large tech companies are now coming together to leverage their innovative technology for good. The Health Equity and Access Leadership (HEAL) Coalition’s goal is to reduce health disparities that have increased during the pandemic.
Many people in underserved communities do not have access to health education and technology or simply don’t trust the healthcare system. HEAL intends to address this issue by increasing access to health technology and education within these communities. This is still a new initiative that is developing, but it’s a sign that our society is recognizing the need for equality in healthcare.
The good news is that we now understand just how serious health disparities in the United States really are. The next step will be using the incredible technology we have to make a meaningful difference.