There’s a lot of talk in the healthcare industry right now about bringing health management tools to the consumer. Whether it’s apps for your iPhone or iPad, games to play on your Wii, or free-standing health-and-wellness kiosks at your local pharmacy, digital applications seem to the delivery method of choice right now. I think those of us in the healthcare IT industry sometimes take for granted that not everybody in the US has a smartphone, computer or even Internet access, which to me always begs the question: How great are these bright and shiny health apps if the populations that need them most don’t have access to them? And aren’t Meaningful Use and Accountable Care incentives/payments targeted towards government-sponsored healthcare recipients? The most likely patient population to NOT have reliable access to the Internet?
It’s this concept of a digital divide in healthcare that I am starting to believe will truly bend the curve when it comes to absolute interoperability – the secure sharing of information between patient, provider, payer, vendor, government, etc., anytime, anywhere. Only those patients who have access to these digital healthcare technologies will begin to clamor for them at their next doctors’ visits. Only patients’ whose doctors in turn have reached out to them via email, text or social media regarding the switch to electronic medical records, development of health information exchange and the benefits to care these will hopefully bring will be ready and willing to go with the digital flow.
I was intrigued by a recent news story on NPR the other morning that detailed a recently unveiled government plan – the Connect to Compete Initiative – to offer cheaper broadband access and computers to low-income families. The story pointed out that “about one-third of Americans – that would be 100 million people, give or take – do not have Internet access in their homes.” (I’d be interested to know how many of that population are on Medicare or Medicaid, or have no insurance at all.) Participating companies will offer broadband service to eligible families for $10 a month, while others will offer computers for as little as $150.
Further investigating into the story dug up a more detailed report from Reuters, which explained that eligible families will be those who have at least one child enrolled in the National School Lunch Program. According to a recent Commerce Department report on U.S. broadband adoption, only 43 percent of households with annual incomes below $25,000 had broadband access at home, while 93 percent of households with incomes exceeding $100,000 had broadband.
I think this is a step in the right direction, and am pleasantly surprised that it’s being enacted by the government – who got this digital healthcare ball rolling downhill fast in the first place.
As more and more low-income/average/middle-class Americans – or whatever we want to call ourselves – begin to speak out about the systemic inequalities we experience in this country’s financial, healthcare and educational systems, it’s nice to think (naively perhaps) that somebody just might be listening. As we see an increase in adoption of digital technologies in the consumer space, so too do I think we’ll see a correlating increase in adoption of healthcare IT by the providers that care for them.