Updated: Nov 8
As we enter an age increasingly characterized by the widespread digitalization of our society, it’s no surprise that technology is becoming fundamentally woven into the fabric of healthcare systems. From patient portals with electronic health records to health apps and telemedicine, technology’s integration into medicine remains ubiquitous in almost every facet of the field. This shift has not only promoted accessible medical services for patients, but also emerged as a panacea to the calls for distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, despite the improved health outcomes that technology enables, we cannot turn a blind eye to the inherent inequality imbued into these advancements. Put simply, an increased reliance on digital tools has the potential to exacerbate disparities between those with access to technology and those without. As a society, we need to collectively confront the reality that technology is emerging as a new-age determinant of human health.
In 2018, the Interdisciplinary Association for Population Health Science tagged digital literacies and internet connectivity as a “super social determinant of health” because of its relationship to other more traditional social influences on health, such as education, employment, and access to healthcare1. Most people depend on the internet constantly in their daily lives and as a result, technology is a major contributor to health outcomes. For example, reliable access to internet connection can connect patients with providers and reduce the burdens of distance and time. In 2021, the American Health Information Management Association Foundation reported that while more than “8 in 10 households with incomes above $100,000” had reliable access to “wired high-speed internet service at home,” households with incomes “below $25,000” average “5 in 10.”2,3 This digital divide threatens to widen gaps in healthcare within both urban and rural areas. To add to this disparity, many health professionals turned to telehealth services during the COVID-19 pandemic for both behavioral health and physical health services. Now, our healthcare systems rely on digital medicine more than ever. This growing reliance on digital tools serves as a perfect storm for new-age exclusion within the health field.
Is there a solution to this emerging health crisis? Physicians are encouraging healthcare systems to implement a “digital inclusion-informed” approach to mobile health that can take into account a community’s “level of access to devices” and support its patients in learning how to effectively use this technology 4. Regardless of the path forward, one fact remains unassailable: as tech companies expand their reach into the healthcare sector, the unwavering focus on patients and their healthcare needs must stand as the heart of all future healthcare endeavors.
Edited By: Mahi Patel
Designed By: Angie Huang