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Our Take

Addressing digital inequity is a business imperative

10 Minute Read

Addressing digital inequity is more than a moral obligation—it’s a business imperative.

Misconceptions about digital inequity prevent health care leaders from prioritizing efforts to address it. But we’re entering a world where digital will be pervasive in health care, and leaders who don’t start to address digital inequity will have a harder time engaging with patients.

Organizations that prioritize digital inequity efforts will benefit from a bigger market for digital solutions, design tools that a wider range of patients will want to use, and reduced cost-of-care through improved outcomes.


A definition of digital inequity

A health disparity characterized by a lack of access to and literacy of digital tools and interactions, leading to worse care outcomes for affected populations.


The conventional wisdom

Digital inequity is often left out of the health care industry’s overall commitment to health equity—either because many leaders don’t consider it, or they don’t feel the same responsibility to close the gaps of digital inequity. They think of it as someone else’s problem, like the government’s, or they deprioritize it because they don’t think their business will be negatively impacted by it.

There are a few misconceptions that perpetuate inaction around digital inequity:

Misconceptions about digital inequity

It isn’t an issue for a majority of the population.

Digital inequity is only experienced by a small subset of patients served. Digitally-enabled patients are the majority and building for them is smart. Organizations can design or implement digital solutions for digitally-enabled patients and ignore the patients who can’t use their digital solutions without consequence to overall outcomes or their bottom line.

It can’t be the main priority of any one leader or department.

While addressing digital inequity may be an organization-wide goal, there doesn’t need to be a single, accountable leader because it doesn’t fall wholly into any one person’s existing responsibilities.

It’s just a feel-good mission-driven initiative.

A commitment to addressing digital inequity is nothing more than virtue signaling. Without concrete ROI to measure impact, there’s no impetus to prioritize digital inequity over other organizational goals that have quantifiable outcomes.


Our take

Addressing digital inequity is more than a moral obligation—it’s a business imperative.

We are entering into a health care landscape where we can’t separate care delivery from digital. Effective care delivery will be contingent on digital elements centered around the patient and their care teams. Health care leaders can’t afford to not address digital inequity.

Truths about digital inequity

Digital inequity isn’t binary.

Digital inequities span a wide range of access, skills, and confidence—meaning any patient could be impacted by digital inequity. For example, a patient may have strong broadband connectivity, but not have a device or the digital literacy to use the solution. Or a patient might have the knowledge to use a digital solution but lack the confidence and trust to use it.

Addressing digital inequity is part of a competitive, long-term strategy.

Other organizations, including retail, big tech, and health are incumbents are all fighting for patients, including those at the margins. The organizations that can successfully address digital inequity will win patient engagement and patient loyalty, which will lead to even bigger wins down the road.

Digital health is a component of quality.

Digital health solutions improve access and convenience and are the most beneficial for the patients who are the most at-risk and disengaged from care. Connecting patients with digital solutions to help them effectively manage their care will lead to better care outcomes.


Three reasons digital inequity is a business imperative

Beyond the moral imperative to help patients, addressing digital inequity could benefit health care organizations by allowing them to:

  • Benefit

    Expand market for digital care

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  • Benefit

    Build solutions patients will use and trust

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  • Benefit

    Improve care outcomes and reduce cost-of-care

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Parting thoughts

Treating digital inequity as a business imperative doesn’t have to be an entirely new or separate business venture. Instead, leaders can modify other equity-driven initiatives and apply lessons learned from addressing health equity more broadly to include digital inequity.

Think of digital inequity as another social determinant of health

Health care organizations are already addressing social determinants of health (SDOH). Digital must be recognized as a new SDOH because of the way it impacts every other aspect of life—work, education, and social. Organizations could learn from how they’ve addressed other SDOH and adapt those methods for digital inequity. As an example, organizations could adapt health literacy education to create digital literacy training. Or organizations can look at how they’ve already connected patients with other resources, like housing or food, and connect them with digital resources, like devices.

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