As technology advances rapidly, health systems are finding new and innovative ways to deploy digital solutions to address health challenges. The integration of digital health has demonstrated benefits in terms of population health and improved efficiency in the delivery of care; however, in some cases, it has also exposed and exacerbated various inequities that have long existed in health systems and wider society. Adverse health outcomes have disproportionately impacted at-risk populations as a result of health inequities. Digital health can play an important role in addressing these inequities.
A new Economist Impact program, The Intersection of Digital Health and Equity, aims to define the implications, gaps and opportunities at the intersection of digital health and health equity as a critical component of progress toward effective, high-value care for all. We bring together an evidence-based program with valuable insights from industry experts. The analysis of this report is underpinned by four core pillars of digital health equity: 1) empowerment and access, 2) accountability and justice, 3) community and leadership, 4) metrics.
Although more attention is being paid to creating a more equitable health system, much work still needs to be done. Our study analysis finds that:
It is essential to increase the diverse representation of underserved populations in positions of decision-making, ranging from healthcare executives to community health leaders.
Inclusion of underserved groups and respective community leaders in the technology design phase is critical to increasing engagement.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) needs to be revisited and policymakers should consider supporting legislation that focuses on expanding access and enhancing protections for underserved populations, such as the Digital Equity Act of 2021.
Further research is necessary to quantify the direct impacts of improvements in digital health equity on each social determinant of health.