Making techquity a reality
Health disparities are a depressingly deeply rooted fact of life in the United States. Centuries of socioeconomic inequality are reflected clearly in the poor health outcomes of traditionally underserved populations, including groups that have been marginalized due to their racial and ethnic origins, sexual and gender identity, or economic status.
With the proliferation of health IT tools to illuminate disparities, and the ongoing shift to value-based care to provide financial support for tackling the issues, healthcare stakeholders have started to take more responsibility for addressing the social determinants of health (SDOH) that lead to gaps in care access and outcomes.
Health IT tools are supposed to build better connections between patients, caregivers, providers, payers, and community-based resources. However, too many of these solutions fall short of their promises due to poor design and limited accessibility for the very populations they are intended to help.
That’s where techquity comes in. This relatively new buzzword defines the quest to develop and deploy technologies capable of advancing health equity through accessible, easy-to-learn, and easy-to-stick-with technologies designed with diverse communities in mind.
To achieve techquity, health IT decision makers must define their health equity goals, identify hidden biases in technologies and processes, and work together with representatives from their real-world populations to create digital health programming that meets the needs of people with widely different levels of health literacy, socioeconomic capital, and caregiver support.
As the digital health ecosystem matures and value-based care becomes a staple of the reimbursement landscape, it’s more important than ever to make techquity a top priority for investment and development.
The challenges of an inequitable tech environment
Access to high-quality healthcare remains a privilege for the affluent and the health literate. Uninsured and underinsured populations struggle to pay for basic care, let alone the latest digital health devices and consumer subscription services to help manage their health.
This creates a vicious cycle for vulnerable populations: without participating in the digital health ecosystem, clinicians and developers don’t have access to data on these communities that can inform analytics and interventions. Lack of insight into the healthcare experiences of these groups makes it more difficult to design programs and technologies to serve them. As a result, technologies and services remain targeted to the people most able to engage with them, not necessarily the people most in need of them.
Insufficient diversity and representation within healthcare organization leadership and unintentional bias in software development can further exacerbate the situation, making techquity harder and harder to reach as time goes on.
To break this pattern, health IT leaders need to take a new approach to making well-designed digital health solutions available and accessible to communities that have historically been left out in the cold.
Real opportunities to take action now: Techquity at ViVE 2023
Creating true techquity will take sustained investment from the entire healthcare community. To jumpstart the process, the HLTH Foundation has announced the launch of the Techquity for Health Coalition, a community of healthcare providers, technology developers, and professional societies who share the goal of creating a more accessible and equitable health IT landscape.
“Technology and data analytics offer enormous promise to improve care access and quality, but also add new layers of consideration for health equity,” said Janna Guinen, Executive Director of the HLTH Foundation, which established the Coalition with Ipsos Healthcare as a strategic research partner.
The Coalition is currently fielding a national survey to benchmark present levels of techquity and help guide future efforts to address the digital divide.
“We urge healthcare leaders to participate in the techquity survey. With the continued digitization of healthcare, action is needed now to avoid further entrenchment of systemic inequities and outcomes disparities,” Guinen said.
Findings from the survey will be announced at the ViVE 2023 event in Nashville, taking place March 26 – 29.
The ViVE conference will also feature the Techquity Impact Program at the Impact Pavilion on the exhibit floor, where digital health leaders will present on topics ranging from health and tech literacy to workforce equity and the equitable use of health data.
Attendees can catch a wide array of health equity sessions throughout the conference, featuring speakers from organizations including Amazon Clinic, UnitedHealthcare, Elevance Health, Seattle Children’s, UT Austin, FOLX Health, and many more.
By engaging with peers and sharing insights into barriers and solutions, health IT decision makers can begin to deploy more effective strategies for designing tools that meet the needs of underserved populations and keeping these communities engaged in the process of achieving better health outcomes.
“Techquity engages us in thinking and acting in a way where no person is left behind,” said Andrea Werner, Chief Population Health Officer, at Bellin Health and Gunderson Health System, a Coalition Partner. “Leveraging the collective knowledge, diverse perspectives and experiences of the Techquity for Health Coalition will help us go further, faster to level the playing field and optimize technology for the people we serve.”
Jennifer Bresnick is a journalist and freelance content creator with a decade of experience in the health IT industry. Her work has focused on leveraging innovative technology tools to create value, improve health equity, and achieve the promises of the learning health system. She can be reached at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.