5 Ways Payers and Providers Can Use Technology to Promote Health Equity
Healthcare payers and providers are currently at a critical moment. On the one hand, the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated adoption of telemedicine and new technologies at unprecedented rates; while on the other hand, it has also brought to light the significant health inequities that exist between countries, within them, and even more so, within cities.
As executive leaders guide healthcare and insurance companies through digital transformations and the implementation of new technologies, they have the unique ability to ensure that these technologies help solve rather than exacerbate the health inequities that have proven costly to both insurers and society as a whole.
What are health inequities?
According to the WHO, Health inequities are differences in health status, health outcomes, or the distribution of health resources between different population groups based on social, racial, ethnic, economic, and environmental characteristics. These health inequities arise as a result of social determinants of health, which are the social, economic and environmental conditions where people live, learn, work and play that affect their health risks and outcomes. Additional factors that contribute to health disparities include genetics, access to care and quality of care.
Examples of health inequities include:
«87% of premature deaths due to noncommunicable diseases occur in low- and middle-income countries»
«In the United States of America, African Americans represent only about 13% of the population but account for almost half of all new HIV infections. There is no biological or genetic reason for these alarming differences in health»
«In Glasgow, male life expectancy ranges from 66.2 years in Ruchill and Possilpark to 81.7 years in Cathcart and Simshill – a difference of 15.5 years»
«In London, when traveling east from Westminster, each tube stop represents nearly one year of life expectancy lost according to the findings of the London Health Observatory»Source: https://www.who.int/news-room/facts-in-pictures/detail/health-inequities-and-their-causes
The preventable costs of health inequities
Aside from the deepening injustices, over time, health inequities prove costly to payers, providers and society as a whole as they yield exorbitant healthcare costs and hinder development. In fact, “the European Parliament has estimated that losses linked to health inequities cost around 1.4% of gross domestic product (GDP) within the European Union – a figure almost as high as the EU’s defense spending (1.6% of GDP).” These losses result from a decrease in productivity and tax payments as well as an increase in welfare payments and health care costs.
Moreover, the WHO notes that a sizable portion of these healthcare costs is associated with non-communicable diseases, which often exhaust household resources and drive families into poverty. However, non-communicable diseases are preventable, and with the right response from payers, providers, digital innovators, and government institutions, their impact and prevalence can be controlled.
Promoting health equity using data and technology
To help bridge existing health inequities, payers and providers can begin by taking a close look at the barriers contributing to the persistence of these health disparities and then use data and technology to help clients and patients overcome them. Here are five steps payers and providers can take to merge into new markets and promote health equity:
- Help clients overcome geographical barriers to care- patients with low socio-economic backgrounds often fail to receive quality care or to address existing health issues due to the costs associated with travel to clinics or time off of work. By making telemedicine services widely available and enabling patients to easily access quality care using basic mobile device features, payers and providers can help more populations receive the care they need before health issues worsen. These features can also be used to enable clients to enroll in wellness programs remotely and easily keep track of their health and wellness.
- Prioritize equity in product development- digital innovators should take diverse populations into account at each step of the product development process, including research, design and implementation. Biases and limitations attributed to particular populations should be accounted for, and technology should be designed to be used by populations with financial, geographic, genetic, and racial limitations.
- Diversify data- insurers and digital innovators must diversify data and collection methods to include all types of populations. Comprehensive data disaggregated by race/ethnicity must be more widely available. Moreover, as women and marginalized populations have historically been left out of clinical research, research and technology must implement their data into all processes from research to product design. New technologies can meet the particular needs of clients and patients from diverse populations when based on real data.
- Support health literacy- While a UnitedHealth Group study lists health literacy as a key component of improving health outcomes and health care affordability, “only 15% to 27% of people in the best performing counties in the US had limited health literacy, compared to 36% to 59% in the lowest performing counties.” However, according to the UnitedHealth Group, higher health literacy is linked to more flu shots, fewer preventable hospitalizations, fewer ER visits, lower costs per beneficiary, and lower hospital readmission rates. Investing in health literacy and giving people more control over their health can help decrease healthcare costs, improve healthcare experience, and yield better health outcomes in broader populations.
- Collaborate with communities- to truly understand the needs of underserved communities and to effectively introduce new tools and solutions, payers, providers and digital innovators need to work with local community leaders and institutions. Working with local partners can help understand barriers to care including language, environmental, financial, and cultural. Community partnerships can also provide access to «community-level data that can be used to identify and track gaps in care, and support the users of new digital solutions.«
It’s no question that investing in health equity can not only lead to better health outcomes, reduced healthcare costs, more effective treatments and medications, and less human suffering but also to increased development, economic growth, and a more robust workforce. In fact, a recent McKinsey article states that “improvements in global health have contributed to about a third of all economic growth in advanced economies over the past century.” By investing in underserved markets and promoting equitable solutions through technological innovation, payers and providers can access new markets and promote both economic and health-related improvements worldwide.
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