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News Article

Digitalization as a Social Determinant of Health

By Miriam Bello | Mon, 05/24/2021 - 13:06

Digitalization is increasingly playing a significant role in care provision through the use of electronic clinical files, data analysis, wearables and apps, among other solutions. But poor access to technology blocks digitalization from generating a fully inclusive healthcare system.

Digitalization has a significant impact in several social determinants of health (SDH), which are education, healthcare access, neighborhood, economic stability and social context, explains the CDC. SDHs are non-medical factors that influence health outcomes as they influence how people are born, grow, live, work and age. Health inequalities and poor health systems, which are common in low-income countries, can negatively impacted SDHs. WHO points out that lowering a SDH can be more impactful for an individual than their lifestyle choices. Digitalization has come to play a significant role in more than one SDH and poor or limited access to technology can significantly impact all of them.

According to INEGI’s 2019 National Survey on the Availability and Use of Information Technologies in Households, 70.1 percent of Mexico’s population aged six years or more in Mexico is an Internet user and 20.1 million households have an internet connection. However, many in the country still lack access to internet.

Addressing the lack of technology access has become a global problem. In healthcare, BUK science magazine Nature presented three core recommendations to close the technological access gap through its Health Community:

  • Adopt a digital inclusion strategy
  • Systematically assess individual patient’s digital literacy, internet access
  • Partner with community-based organizations with expertise in digital literacy training

Nature’s Health Community states that when digital literacies and connectivity gaps are assessed systematically and universally, healthcare systems can document overall population-level metrics, examine disparities, implement solutions and track changes over time.

Ideally, digitalization’s goal is to offer less expensive healthcare with higher quality services. during MBN’s webinar “Digitalization: The Future of Patient Care,” Jorge Camargo, CEO of Ecaresoft, explained that digitalization is not achieving these goals. “Instead of digitalization making health more accessible, health seems to be getting more expensive. As providers, we need to take a step back and really focus on the patient’s health and increasing access to treatments and solutions,” he said.

Camargo said that the private health sector can also play a role in increasing healthcare access, so long as companies keep in mind these goals when delving into digitalization. “This needs to be seen as any other decision a company can take, so there is no need to see it as a complex solution. Digitalization is intended to be a tool to improve performance and remain competitive,” he said. The resulting impact can be a new differentiator. “Companies should start aligning their goals to the patient.”

Miriam Bello Miriam Bello Journalist and Industry Analyst