Digital perspective: It’s time for an upgrade toward equity

Digital perspective: It’s time for an upgrade toward equity

Key takeaways:

  • The Digital Innovation Group at Providence provides Digital Perspectives on how healthcare can be improved using technology to improve access and equity.

  • Our series reviews each report and provides an overview of the thought-provoking insights shared by the author.

  • This report examines how addressing the needs of vulnerable populations is not just the right thing to do — it's also good business.

[3 MIN READ]

Between a global pandemic, a contentious national election and protests against systemic racism, the events of the past year turned a spotlight on many of the healthcare mistakes we’ve been making for years. Disparities in access to care, quality of care and health outcomes have been magnified as the country adapts to an ever-changing “normal.” In response, healthcare leaders are launching new initiatives, services and products focused on health equity. How can they ensure their efforts are effective? How will they measure success?

Digital Perspectives from the Providence Digital Innovation Group offer a look into the ways we’re providing accessible, equitable healthcare to the communities we serve using digital technology. The thought-provoking essays are written by health leaders at Providence. They’re accessible through our digital Resource Center.

Earlier this year we introduced a Digital Perspective series to provide an overview of each report and highlight its key messages. Our first article summarizes the report, “Where Does Health Happen?” and discusses ways to use digital technology to improve access to care.

"It's Time for an Upgrade Toward Equity," written by Bethany Vick, looks at health equity and examines how addressing the needs of vulnerable populations is not just the right thing to do — it's also good business.

This month we share “It’s Time for an Upgrade Toward Equity," written by Bethany Vick, Senior Digital Strategy Manager at Providence Digital Innovation Group. The report looks at health equity and examines how addressing the needs of vulnerable populations is not just the right thing to do — it's also good business.

It’s time to level up

Providence recently announced a $50 million initiative to address racial disparities in healthcare. Funds will be used on outreach and education to ensure equitable access to testing, treatment and vaccines for COVID-19. Services are expected to expand over time to address other health disparities.

Our actions must follow our words. To achieve lasting change, health equity must become baked into our culture and our daily individual and team roles.

That's a good start in removing barriers to care, but considerable work remains. “Health organizations of all kinds must move beyond these independent preliminary actions and translate them into systemic changes to the culture of our organizations, the way we do our work and the products that are generated by that system. Our actions must follow our words,” writes Vick. “To achieve lasting change, health equity must become baked into our culture and our daily individual and team roles.”

Health equity is good business

Traditionally, digital product development has focused almost exclusively on white, commercially insured patients. Patients who may be considered vulnerable because they are at greater risk for poor health status and have limited access to healthcare are often ignored. Not only does this create unacceptable disparities in care, but it also doesn't make good business sense.

Designing for vulnerable populations does not require sacrificing financial security and growth but instead generates significant opportunity for the organization.

“Vulnerable populations include the chronically ill or disabled, low-income and homeless, rural populations, minorities, LBGTQ+, the very young and the very old. Designing for these populations does not require sacrificing financial security and growth but instead generates significant opportunity for the organization,” writes Vick.

“We often think of this as a small market, but the annual discretionary spending of people with disabilities in the U.S. is over $200 billion. Improvements made to make a product more accessible not only benefit those with a disability but make the product easier to use for all consumers.”

The features we build into projects for minority or underrepresented groups often appeal to the majority of users in other ways.

For example, Google's autocomplete function was initially provided for people with disabilities. Voice control started with users with physical impairments but has since been adopted as a convenience by millions. Only a small portion of people who use closed captioning do so because of hearing loss or deafness.

“The features we build into projects for minority or underrepresented groups often appeal to the majority of users in other ways,” states the report.

Developing a culture of inclusivity

Once a company commits to being more inclusive when developing digital healthcare technology, there are several ways to improve the likelihood they’ll reach their goals:

  • Ensure your teams reflect diversity.
  • Involve underrepresented groups in product development.
  • Evaluate the data and consider who may lack access to the care offered.
  • Measure the impact of your products and services.

Consumers who have been historically marginalized and underserved by healthcare organizations will be watching to see if we follow through on our commitment to health equity and demonstrate lasting change.

“Health organizations have an obligation to promote equitable healthcare for all. This doesn't mean that we shouldn't create niche markets — in some cases, this may be the best way to provide equitable care. But we must be aware of the inherent bias embedded within digital products and services and eliminate as many of the negative impacts as possible,” writes Vick.

“In the coming months and years, consumers who have been historically marginalized and underserved by healthcare organizations will be watching to see if we follow through on our commitment to health equity and demonstrate lasting change,” states the report.

How has #DigitalHealth improved your access to healthcare? Have #DigitalInnovations made a difference in the care you receive? Share your experience with readers @Providence.

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