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Health Equity: Solving the Digital Healthcare Divide

Just 10 years ago, providers faced a digital healthcare divide, with a steep learning curve, to navigate electronic health records. We have learned much to optimize the EHR experience, but recently a different digital divide has emerged among patients.

This new digital divide is central to the discussion of Health Equity: there are patients who own current digital technologies, and there are patients who do not. This divide translates directly into the ability or inability to engage successfully in remote care. As virtual care expands, so does this gap in healthcare delivery. Exploration of this divide turns up some glaring issues that require troubleshooting:

Digital Literacy

There is a subset of patients who are sometimes termed “digitally naive.” These individuals do not have email addresses or social media profiles. They seldom access the internet, and they find technology intimidating. Though there are exceptions, these patients are often elderly or dwell in rural areas.

At Strive Medtech, at least 10% of the patients we serve struggle with digital literacy. For us, ‘solving for’ their related challenges means dedicating additional time to address basic technological needs. Important steps may include getting patients an email address and teaching them how to navigate smart devices. Adding a human element makes the digital experience a safer, friendlier place for this population to receive care.

Access to Broadband

Internet infrastructure is rapidly improving. Between Wi-Fi, cellular access and broadband improvements, the government and private industry have upped their efforts to improve access.

Here in Wisconsin, US Senator Tammy Baldwin has sought significant federal funds to expand broadband access. With the bipartisan infrastructure bill moving through the senate and focusing on a program including broadband equity, access and deployment, significant public funds will likely materialize to address this issue. We also see private industry, such as SpaceX with Starlink, providing improved infrastructure in rural areas.

Access to Current Hardware

Even with broadband access, patients need hardware to access digital technologies. If they have an outdated smartphone without a front-facing camera, telemedicine will be very difficult to access. Similarly, an older generation smart device may not support modern Bluetooth technology, leading to much quicker depletion of smart device batteries. Patients will keenly feel this problem because medical devices often rely on Bluetooth to connect to a smartphone or tablet.

At Strive MedTech, 10-20% of the patients we serve have older generation smartphones and tablets. Their difficulty in accessing virtual care led us to create programs to solve for this.

For example, one of our grant programs allows health systems to request smart devices for patient care. I recently heard about another innovative healthcare organization who came up with an employee donation system. Workers due for an upgrade donated their 1-2 generation old devices for use by patients.

Padraic R. Obma, M.D. has an extensive track record for improving the orthopedic experience and returning patients to a high quality of life. Over the course of several years in practice, Dr. Obma has seen tens of thousands of patients and performed thousands of surgeries to get people back to the quality of life they desire. As the passionate founder of Strive MedTech, Dr. Obma is a board certified orthopedic surgeon who holds an enthusiastic spark for improving healthcare by incorporating modern technology. Wholly committed to solving problems with minimally invasive therapies, he has developed and established a platform of remote orthopedic care. From athletes who have had great sporting successes to people who can once again provide for their families, Strive helps individuals reclaim their lives.

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