Digital access crucial to providing equitable care, report says

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Increasing digital access and literacy can help close healthcare gaps in underserved communities, according to a report by physicians and researchers from UC San Francisco. The findings were published Oct. 22 in JAMA Network Open.

The COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately affected low-income communities and people of color, the report said. The pandemic also renewed the healthcare system's focus on improving equity while simultaneously accelerating digital transformation efforts.

Digital transformation offers an opportunity to address barriers to healthcare access and literacy for marginalized populations. However, if not implemented carefully, digital advancement also has the potential to exacerbate inequities, the report said.

The pandemic amplified barriers to accessing healthcare in the digital market. For example, underserved populations had lower frequencies of telehealth visits, and populations affected most by the pandemic had the greatest difficulty accessing online vaccination appointments. The gaps in care shed light on the lack of attention directed toward equity when developing digital health tools.

Improving digital health equity will require developing scalable solutions integrated into the design from the outset, the report said. The tools also need to be tested on the populations who will benefit most. For example, when testing a diabetes tool, researchers should consider which demographic is most affected by the condition.

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