Leveraging Technology to Advance Health Equity

By Nicole Chambers

Health equity and why it matters

A 2022 report from Accenture and HIMSS Market Insights reveals that 93% of US healthcare executives believe in the importance of initiatives that promote health equity,1 or making sure everyone gets the high-quality care they deserve according to their specific needs. But despite widespread support for the idea of health equity, it is far from our current reality. In the complex web of private and public entities that comprise the United States healthcare system, access to quality health care is often dependent on a person’s circumstances in life.

The CDC defines health disparities as preventable differences in the burden of disease, injury, violence, or opportunities to achieve optimal health that are experienced by socially disadvantaged populations.2 Significant areas of inequity include socioeconomic status (income, education, employment, and overall economic stability), race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, geographic location, age, and disability status.2-8

Health disparities are multifaceted, interrelated, and often deeply rooted in our socioeconomic system. For instance, people with higher incomes and more resources are far more likely to have access to quality health care than those in poverty,9 and this inequitable access to care contributes to an alarming disparity in health status and life expectancy: research shows that Americans in the bottom third of household wealth can expect to live 7 to 9 years fewer without disability (in terms of difficulty performing activities of daily living) than those in the top third.10 

Findings from the American Association for Cancer Research Cancer Disparities Progress Report 2022 help to further illustrate what health disparity looks like, including11:

  • A 12% higher cancer death rate in people living in poverty compared with those who are not,
  • A 17% higher cancer death rate in people living in rural areas compared with those in urban areas,
  • And a 12% higher cancer death rate in Black women compared with White women

Disparity at this scale is unacceptable and is rightfully motivating broad action on health equity. As organizations across the spectrum of health care dedicate themselves to advancing access to care for all patients, they can and should take advantage of technological innovations to support this effort.

How technology can help

Technology offers innovative avenues to bridge healthcare gaps for underserved populations, including:

Data analytics for population health

Technology-driven data analytics can help identify health disparities in specific populations. By analyzing health data, policymakers and healthcare providers can develop targeted interventions to address disparities and improve access to care.

Health education and awareness

Technology can increase health literacy, empowering patients to make informed decisions about their health.

Public health campaigns

Technology can facilitate the creation and dissemination of public health campaigns aimed at raising awareness of preventive measures, vaccinations, and available healthcare resources.

Community health portals

Localized digital platforms can connect patients with nearby healthcare services, community clinics, support groups, and resources tailored to their needs.

Mobile health applications

Mobile apps can provide educational resources, appointment scheduling, medical reminders, and self-care tools. These apps can be particularly useful for patients with limited access to transportation or those who reside in underserved areas.

Telemedicine and remote monitoring

Telemedicine allows patients to receive medical consultations and follow-ups remotely, reducing the need for physical visits.

Affordable diagnostics and monitoring devices

Technological advancements have led to the development of more affordable and portable diagnostic tools, such as point-of-care tests and low-cost medical devices, making testing more broadly accessible.

Electronic health records

Electronic health records can improve coordination of care among different healthcare providers and facilities, ensuring that patients’ medical histories are easily accessible. This can lead to better-informed treatment decisions and reduce duplicate tests or procedures, ultimately lowering costs for patients.

Collaboration and consultation

Telehealth and virtual collaboration tools enable healthcare providers to consult with specialists remotely, enhancing patient care in underserved areas where specialist availability may be limited.

Patient assistance management technology

Digital solutions enable healthcare providers to proactively navigate and manage financial assistance options and other patient resources, helping to ensure that treatment cost does not prevent, delay, or interrupt access to care.

E-prescriptions and pharmacy services

Electronic prescription systems streamline the prescription process, making it more convenient for patients to obtain medications. Additionally, online pharmacies can improve access to affordable medications, especially for individuals who may face transportation or financial challenges.

While the problem of health inequity is massive, so is the potential of technology to help solve it. Patients, healthcare providers, life science companies, policymakers, and other stakeholders along the patient care journey must embrace digital solutions that make health care more comprehensive, affordable, and accessible for all.

About the contributor

Nicole Chambers

Nicole Chambers is Vice President of Strategic Initiatives at Annexus Health, overseeing third-party relationships and partnerships. Prior to joining Annexus Health, she was a Corporate Account Director with AmerisourceBergen Specialty GPOs. Her background also includes work on AmerisourceBergen’s Innovation Team and the sales team at IntrinsiQ, as well as five years as an adjunct business and marketing professor at Monmouth University.

Nicole has been a champion of health equity and patient access throughout her career. She helped create and orchestrate the Disparities in Cancer Care Summit, a first-in-industry meeting that assembled thought leaders in health equity and led to the development of a consortium and a resource center for oncology practices. She also developed the first Solution Partner Summit, bringing together various technology and platform partners to collaborate on further improving care for patients using digital health care.

References: 1. Nine out of ten healthcare executives say that health equity initiatives are a top business priority, according to Accenture and HIMSS Insights: yet only 36% have a dedicated health equity agenda budget. Accenture. March 15, 2022. Accessed August 14, 2023. https://newsroom.accenture.com/news/nine-out-of-ten-healthcare-executives-say-that-health-equity-initiatives-are-a-top-business-priority-according-to-accenture-and-himss-insights.htm 2. Health disparities. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated May 26, 2023. Accessed August 14, 2023. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/disparities/index.htm 3. Economic stability. Healthy People 2030. Accessed August 14, 2023. https://health.gov/healthypeople/objectives-and-data/browse-objectives/economic-stability 4. The state of health disparities in the United States. National Library of Medicine. 2017. Accessed August 14, 2023. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK425844/ 5. Creamer J. Inequalities persist despite decline in poverty for all major race and Hispanic origin groups. United States Census Bureau. September 15, 2020. Accessed August 14, 2023. https://www.census.gov/library/stories/2020/09/poverty-rates-for-blacks-and-hispanics-reached-historic-lows-in-2019.html 6. Kochhar R. The enduring grip of the gender pay gap. Pew Research Center. March 1, 2023. Accessed August 14, 2023. https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2023/03/01/the-enduring-grip-of-the-gender-pay-gap/ 7. The complexity of LGBT poverty in the United States. Institute for Research on Poverty. June 2021. Accessed August 14, 2023. https://www.irp.wisc.edu/resource/the-complexity-of-lgbt-poverty-in-the-united-states/ 8. Latest Census Bureau data shows Americans 65+ only group to experience increase in poverty. National Council on Aging. September 13, 2022. Accessed August 14, 2023. https://ncoa.org/article/latest-census-bureau-data-shows-americans-65-only-group-to-experience-increase-in-poverty 9. Khullar D, Chokshi DA. Health, income, and poverty: where we are and what could help. Health Affairs. October 4, 2018. Accessed August 15, 2023. https://www.healthaffairs.org/do/10.1377/hpb20180817.901935/ 10. Zaninotto P, Batty GD, Stenholm S, et al. Socioeconomic inequalities in disability-free life expectancy in older people from England and the United States: a cross-national population-based study. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2020;75(5):906-913. doi:10.1093/gerona/glz266 11. AACR Cancer Disparities Progress Report 2022: Achieving the Bold Vision of Health Equity for Racial and Ethnic Minorities and Other Underserved Populations. Philadelphia: American Association for Cancer Research; 2022. https://cancerprogressreport.aacr.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2022/06/AACR_CDPR_2022.pdf