“The essence of global health equity is the idea that something so precious as health, might be viewed as a right”
– Paul Farmer
Digital health equity refers to the movement towards optimisation of healthcare for all individuals without differences such as ethnicity, culture or socio-economic status affecting the type of healthcare received . The digital component refers to the growing role of computer-driven analysis and other technological digital developments in tracking and reducing inequities among the population . The idea behind the digital health equity concept refers to a healthcare landscape where each individual has equal access to high-quality healthcare, which is supported by digital technologies. The fundamental basis of health equity is built upon one of the Human Rights principles formulated by the United Nations: the right to the best achievable health based on a healthcare system that is available, accessible and high quality for all [3, 4].
Application & benefits
Thanks to the increasing use of AI-driven data analyses based on current and inclusive datasets (REAL datasets), our mapping of various population groups has improved [5, 6]. Relatively young start-ups that deploy digital tools to reduce health inequality are rapidly developing technological innovations such as apps, platforms and online communities [7, 8]. These tools support disadvantaged population groups and keep track of their health with disaggregated data . When these analyses reveal a systematic health discrepancy or result between groups, this information can be shared with responsible healthcare professionals and/or lawmakers. These innovations work on improved population health based on the aforementioned REAL datasets, among others [10, 11]. This is also due to the rise of partnerships between governments and businesses with increasing attention to continuously monitoring minorities and vulnerable groups digitally, in an innovative and interactive way [8, 12-14].
According to the HIMSS, digital healthcare start-ups are increasingly emphasising the necessity of taking into account disadvantaged and vulnerable populations in society . Developers mostly focus on promoting individual health and improving the accessibility of healthcare for vulnerable and less reachable parts of society [16. 17]. Although concrete market prognoses for digital health equity are lacking, more and more investment budgets and funds are being assigned to digital applications that aim to improve health equity [18, 19].
Stimulating legislation and regulations
Increased awareness and growing acceptance
Improving digital skills
Immaturity of the application
More and more governments worldwide are fighting health inequity and prioritising the theme in their political agenda. Growing awareness among healthcare professionals and citizens is driving the demand for digital health equity technologies. Improved algorithms will filter factors such as systemic discrimination and other inaccuracies from data systems in the future, contributing to an objective expansion of a fair healthcare system. Collective knowledge transfer is adding to this process, but the definition of digital health equity remains imperfect and ambiguities remain . In addition, some say that the rise of digital applications is reducing health equity in society .
The advent of more and more digital applications in healthcare is driving the importance of healthcare equity. By mapping inequities with digital applications and preventive and predictive analyses, healthcare can be better aligned with (individual) needs and general population health in the future. As such, digital health equity contributes to the trend of the empowered patient.
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- Veinot et al. (2019). On the potential of Upstream Health informatics interventions to enhance health equity, Journal of the Medical Care Section; https://journals.lww.com/lww-medicalcare/Fulltext/2019/06001/Leveling_Up__On_the_Potential_of_Upstream_Health.5.aspx. Accessed at 10 July 2021
- Who.int. 2021. Council on the Economics of Health For All issues brief on equitable health innovation. [online] Available at: https://www.who.int/news/item/09-06-2021-council-on-the-economics-of-health-for-all-issues-brief-on-equitable-health-innovation [Accessed 14 July 2021].
- Euro.who.int. 2021. [online] Available at: https://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0020/235712/e96954.pdf [Accessed 14 July 2021].
- Ces.tech. 2021. 5 Ways Artificial Intelligence Is Changing Health Care – CES 2022. [online] Available at: https://www.ces.tech/Articles/2019/5-Ways-Artificial-Intelligence-Is-Changing-Health.aspx [Accessed 13 July 2021].
- Ces.tech. 2021. Making AI Part of Health Care – CES 2022. [online] Available at: https://www.ces.tech/Articles/2020/Making-AI-Part-of-Health-Care.aspx [Accessed 13 July 2021].
- Bathija, P. 2021. Digital is the next frontier of health equity. American Hospital Association; https://www.aha.org/news/healthcareinnovation-thursday-blog/2021-04-07-digital-is-next-frontier-health-equity Accessed at 13 july.2021
- Shaprio, G. 2021. Using technology to help heal health care disparities, STAT; https://www.statnews.com/2021/01/13/using-technology-to-help-heal-health-care-disparities/
- Kent, J. 2021. Collecting big data to eliminate rural health disparities, Health analytics forum; https://healthitanalytics.com/news/collecting-big-data-to-eliminate-rural-health-disparities Accessed at 12 july 2021
- Dyrda, L. (2020). The tech 6 health systems use to limit disparities in healthcare. Becker’s Health IT; https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/healthcare-information-technology/the-tech-4-health-systems-use-to-limit-disparities-in-healthcare.html. Accessed at 12 July 2021
- Health inequalities. (2020). Instrumenten om gezondheidsverschil te meten en aan te pakken, Health inequalities portal; https://health-inequalities.eu/nl/toolbox/tools-to-measure-and-address-health-inequalities/
- MIT News | Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 2021. 3 Questions: Artificial intelligence for health care equity. [online] Available at: https://news.mit.edu/2021/3-questions-barzilay-christia-stultz-ai-health-care-equity-0323 [Accessed 13 July 2021].
- Ahmad, N., 2021. Five Experts Reflect on the Health Equity Implications of the Pandemic. [online] RWJF. Available at: https://www.rwjf.org/en/blog/2020/12/five-experts-reflect-on-the-health-equity-implications-of-the-pandemic.html [Accessed 15 July 2021].
- Chiriboga,D. (2020). Health inequity during the COVID-19 pandemic: a cry for ethical global leadership, The Lancet; https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2820%2931145-4/fulltext. Accessed at 11 July2021
- HIMSS. 2021. Digital Health and the Trends Healthcare Investors are Following. [online] Available at: https://www.himss.org/resources/digital-health-and-trends-healthcare-investors-are-following [Accessed 14 July 2021].
- Rodriguez JA, Clark CR, Bates DW. Digital Health Equity as a Necessity in the 21st Century Cures Act Era. JAMA. 2020;323(23):2381–2382. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.7858
- Whitehead, M et al. 2014. The equity action spectrum: taking a comprehensive approach, European Commision policy letter; https://ec.europa.eu/health/sites/default/files/social_determinants/docs/policybrief_equityaction_en.pdf Accessed at 12 july 2021
- Crawford, A. 2020. Digital health equity and COVID-19; The innovation curve cannot reinforce the social gradient of health, Journal of Medical internet Search; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7268667/ Accessed at 12 july 2021
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