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Technology is the next social determinant of health – MedCity News

This is what we have known for years: medical care alone does not equal better health outcomes. Current research by the National Library of Medicine shows that medical care accounts for 10 to 20 percent of the modifiable contributors to healthy outcomes for a population. The lion’s share of the contributors — the other 80 to 90 percent — are referred to as social determinants of health (SDoH). These factors — including access to transportation and food security — are shaped by the distribution of money, power and resources at global, national and local levels, according to WHO.

We also know that access to technology and reliable information is critical to making healthy decisions and now to accessing care, and as such, it should be officially considered a leading social determinant. Arguably, during the pandemic, issues related to technology — from access to trust — have had life-changing impact on communities across our nation, most notably seniors and minorities.

This tech gap isn’t a “future challenge”: it’s expanding daily and must be solved with equal parts empathy and urgency.

Unfortunately, a large portion of our at-risk population remains tech adverse. According to a University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging, older adults in the U.S. have trust issues. Forty-nine percent report being concerned about privacy during telemedicine visits. What’s more, socioeconomics worsens the situation. In the JAMA report, “Assessing Telemedicine Unreadiness Among Older Adults in the United States During the Covid-19 Pandemic,” 13 million older adults (38%) reported that they were “unready” to have a telehealth visit (per a paper by the JAMA Internal Medicine) and sadly, that ratio is even higher among populations of lower socioeconomic status.

Whether it’s due to apathy, mistrust, confusion or simply personal preference, as health care delivery “goes digital,” the experiences and outcomes for older Americans will likely get worse. Too many seniors lack the support of a digital health advocate — much less any health advocate. Every day, seniors fall into the cracks of lack of care coordination, and their lack of access to technology will widen these cracks even further.

Seniors deserve empathy from the health care system.

Close your eyes and think of an older loved one who may not be tech savvy. Now think of how they would feel if they were in need of urgent care, you’re not around, and someone they don’t know is on the phone telling them to “hop on a Zoom call with the on-call physician.” They’d likely feel frustrated, intimidated or downright angry.

When my mother suffered a heart attack, I witnessed first-hand how difficult it was to navigate the health care system and how that experience can dramatically slow down recovery. It was a serious wake up call. For seniors without a family advocate, navigating our technology-reliant health systems is both intimidating and overwhelming. Communicating through digital platforms can make our seniors feel isolated, ignored, misunderstood and, many times, disenfranchised in how to best manage their own care.

There are two mounting reasons we need a greater sense of urgency.

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Source: https://medcitynews.com/2021/12/technology-is-the-next-social-determinant-of-health/

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