Digital Health Care Inclusion

JA Rodriguez, et al. NEJM 2022; 386: 1101-1103 (commentary). Digital Inclusion as Health Care — Supporting Health Care Equity with Digital-Infrastructure Initiatives

Key points:

  • “With digital health tools such as telehealth and patient portals becoming prominent components of care delivery, the barriers to digital inclusion have grown increasingly apparent.1 For example, more than 100 studies have revealed disparities in portal use based on age, race, socioeconomic status, English-language proficiency, and other factors”
  • Barriers: digital redlining (discrimination by internet providers), limited broadband infrastructure/access, costs, and knowledge
  • “The recently enacted Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) makes investments that could foster sustainable digital inclusion”
  • “The IIJA takes much of the responsibility for building digital infrastructure away from individual health care organizations and makes digital inclusion a public concern. The law includes $65 billion for digital-inclusion initiatives. It earmarks $42.5 billion for investment in broadband infrastructure by means of state deployment grants, promotes broadband affordability by providing $14.2 billion for $30-per-month subsidies for Internet costs for underserved people, and allocates $2.8 billion for the creation of digital-literacy programs. It also includes funds to support connectivity in tribal communities and broadband deployment in rural areas”
  • “The law charges the FCC with adopting rules to prevent “digital discrimination of access based on income level, race, ethnicity, color, religion, or national origin.” These policies are an attempt to overcome structural barriers to digital inclusion, such as redlining”
  • “By capitalizing on new policies, health care organizations could become a critical part of an environment of community-based players working toward digital inclusion”

Issues Not Addressed by Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA):

  • “Law doesn’t address changes that are needed to the design of digital health platforms (e.g., language translation) or to make workflows more inclusive (e.g., integration of interpreters into telehealth visits)”
  • “Simplification of interstate licensing laws for clinicians would also enable digital tools to increase access to care for marginalized populations”
  • Assuring adequate reimbursement for digital care

My take: Digital health literacy/availability is needed to improve outcomes.

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Island in Charleston Harbor with Ravenel Bridge in the distant (near Shem Creek)