Addressing Healthcare Access & Inequity Through Digital Health

Mingee Choi • January 17, 2023

Digital Health continues to bridge gaps in medically underserved areas across the United States. More and more, healthcare providers are incorporating technology, such as telehealth, as a method for expanded access and service delivery, while lowering costs and streamlining resources needed to support brick and mortar operations. Greater health equity using devices, such as wearables in the cardiovascular space, have given rise to emerging technologies that are expanding the consumer experience, such as direct care participation, while also enhancing patient-provider relationships through closer contact. Sabrina Runbeck, Dr. Sara Chokshi, and Juan Jimenez provided deeper insights about this growing trend during HITLAB’s recent Innovator Summit in November.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic saw a dramatic shift in the care delivery paradigm through the wide adoption of various digital health technologies, the pandemic also pushed an already stretched US healthcare system beyond the brink. For Ms. Runbeck, a cardiothoracic physician associate (PA), the pandemic accelerated the rate of provider burnout creating a national provider shortage that will take years to close. Coupled with an already increasing rate of turnover amongst providers, access to equitable healthcare has remained a persistent challenge, which according to Ms. Runbeck, cannot be alleviated by recruiting more clinicians. For Mr. Jimenez, rapid technological development that engages the consumer remains one of the only viable paths toward alleviating the burden on an already stretched workforce while also increasing accessible and affordable care. Since more than 15 million Americans live in medically underserved areas, engagement of both consumers and providers remains a central to increasing healthcare equity as noted by Dr. Chokshi during the panel’s discussion.

For Mr. Jimenez’s company AccurKardia, the focus on both provider and consumer as a unique pair has remained a central tenet for product development. Emphasis of digital health solutions within clinical workflows he argued, enhance patient-provider relationships by engaging both end users in the care process. The company’s innovative ingest device-agnostic ECG, a clinical-grade diagnostic tool, allows both patients and providers to analyze real-time data via wearable and mobile devices, such as Apple’s iWatch or Samsung smart phone. Mr. Jimenez noted that passive devices, such as this, increase provider and patient flexibility by reducing the number of in-person visits while also increasing engagement and thereby quality in care through more digital touch points. In turn, Mr. Jimenez believes, the healthcare workforce will see a reduction in resource burden, while patients will be more engaged via less invasive means in their daily life. Overall, the panelists agreed about the necessity and value of technology throughout the healthcare continuum.

Addressing chronic disease remains one of the main targets towards increasing consumer engagement, which in turn would have a positive impact on outcomes and satisfaction. As a final takeaway for each of the panelists, adoption of digital health solutions addresses only a small portion of a much larger question, how to increase equitable healthcare in the United States? For AccurKardia, the answer is changing the way consumers engage with their cardiac health. For Ms. Runbeck, helping providers control and balance their lives and clinical practice. For Dr. Chokshi, the research into the patient perspective and how to increase engagement more broadly. Together, a greater use of technology to increase equity.

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