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Digital connectivity and equity are increasingly seen as vital for health


Stacy Porter, vice president of Consumer Centric Strategy for UH, said she sees digital equity as a social determinant of health.

“If you had asked the question five years ago, or maybe even two years ago, I think we all should have paused and thought about what that even means?” she said. “But today it seems so clear that absolutely it’s a point of risk; it’s a factor.”

Porter expects a formal move towards digital connectivity to be universally seen as a social determinant of health, just like smoking or physical activity. The problem will only become more intense and the gap more transparent in the future, she said.

Dr Akram Boutros, President and CEO of MetroHealth, was publicly discussing the importance of digital connectivity and the lack of internet availability in the neighborhoods surrounding the main campus of the system long before the pandemic. He called attention to the issue at MetroHealth’s 2019 annual meeting, where he pledged to connect neighbors within 3 miles of campus to affordable high-speed internet with the help of community partners.

The initial commitment of 100 households with a target of 1,000 also included the provision of free training (in English and Spanish) on the use of computers and a free laptop – although other initiatives who connected homes with devices during the pandemic allowed the system to change its focus a bit on the device part of the initiative, Santiago said. So far, they have connected more than 350 homes through this initiative.

MetroHealth began screening for the social determinants of patient health with the 2019 launch of its Institute for HOPE, which chose to add digital connectivity to the standard set of screening questions.

Dr Steven Shook, head of virtual health at the Cleveland Clinic, said the system routinely collects information on a number of social determinants of health, including tobacco and alcohol use, financial constraints, transportation needs, food insecurity, housing stability, intimate partner violence. , physical activity, stress, depression and social connections.

Information on digital literacy and broadband access is not being specifically collected currently, but Shook said the clinic sees an opportunity to do so, and it’s something executives are discussing.

“What we wanted to do first, I think, was really to get a feel for our improvement opportunities first, and that starts with just being able to measure what the digital divide is so that we can target our interventions. appropriately, “he said.

The UH and other providers are understandably excited about the doors opened by telehealth and the creative new ways they can deliver patient care, Porter said.

“But we can’t do that and lose sight of the patients who need and need more traditional types of care, or who need more help, more coaching, more access,” said Carry. “We are committed to leaving no patient behind, so that must be part of our goal.”

Until every individual in every neighborhood has the ability and knowledge to connect across the digital divide to telehealth and other resources, “we haven’t been successful,” said DigitalC’s Baunach.

“(It is) the responsibility of the education system, the health system and the system of economic development and opportunities to ensure that every person can thrive and have equal access to this fundamental infrastructure,” he said. she declared. “It’s like water or electricity in the 20th century. We have cut these neighborhoods off from their basic access to the things that determine the social determinants of health.”


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