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High tech and high touch: The Role of technology and empathy in advancing health equity | by Tapaan Chauhan | Jan, 2022

Tapaan Chauhan

Mainehealth, the largest integrated health system in Maine is faced with a unique challenge. How does one ensure that the health care system is serving everyone equally without neglecting anyone?

The answer to this burning question is actually pretty simple: technology. Technology which is used thoughtfully and with empathy can serve generations to come without leaving anyone behind.

Equity in healthcare means aiding each and every patient logistically, clinically, emotionally and economically.

Many neglected patient populations have neglected care because they don’t trust the health care system. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have cited Blacks and Latinos are likely to get denied the access to vaccination because of which they are more likely to get seriously ill and not receive any aid resulting in death.

Providing adequate medical assistance and implementing solutions which meets the needs of the neglected communities is the priority of providers and payers. Hence, denying someone the care they need, based on their socioeconomic status, gender, race, religion, ethnicity, age or sexual orientation is very unethical.

Technology can serve as the means to maintain equity in the health care sector. In Maine, the patients with access to advanced technology are very satisfied with the existing virtual health services. But the people living in rural areas are devoid of this luxury. Maine focused on finding great partners to expand the accessibility to the needy ones.

Maine Health’s National Digital Equity Centre promotes wide accessibility of technology by making the digital literary services highly cost-effective, which ensures financial aid and improved health among the underserved community.

The future of health care is quite promising with an increase in demand Telehealth both for medical and mental health care. The demand for virtual care has spiked greatly during the pandemic. Its usage is 38 times higher compared the pre-pandemic times.

Telemedicine makes health care accessible and affordable for everyone by eliminating the need for a patient to visit doctor’s chambers, secure child care etc.

Implementing equity means treating your patients with utmost respect from the beginning of a patient’s journey till the end.

Here are some ways for fostering equity in health care;

  1. Technology must be easily operated by patients: Technology must provide a digital experience which proves to be highly suitable and convenient for patients. A patient must be able access the required services and information on their mobile phones, irrespective of location and time.
  2. Language Integration: digital tools must not only operate in the language English. To serve every individual with respect and empathy, the digital tools must be able to accessible to those who have a little knowledge about English. Digital systems must be able to translate English to other languages.
  3. Supports for Disable people: digital technology must be accessible to those with visual or hearing impairments. You can do this by using relevant features which are specifically beneficial for disable people. Such as, you can use distinguishable colors in your machines for color blind people and using larger sized texts in the digital tools.

Technology cannot be a substitute for human touch in healthcare. Its effectiveness and sustainability relies upon the people who operate it.

What may be effective for one patient may be detrimental for another. Hence integrating human touch with technological solutions can maintain equity in healthcare.

Human interaction is especially important in dealing with financial instances. Completely avoid confusing paper statements, rigid payment options and aggressive fee collecting tactics. Offer on-point payment information and flexible options with extremely well-mannered communication and respectful assistance.

Health care staff must always be accessible to the patients. Human help must immediately respond to patients if they face any difficulty in operating digital tools or complete their needs through technology. You shouldn’t make patients wait when they are in immediate need of assistance.

Precise and thoughtful implementation of technology can fix the vulnerabilities present in our health care system and maintain equity and equality among the patient population.

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