What is Healthcare Technology Doing for the Chronically Ill?

Think about how Covid-19 has impacted our healthcare system. Its routine care disruptions highlight the importance of the healthcare technologies we use to get access and delivery of care. This, on top of the routine care problems faced by many chronic disease patients such as

  • busy providers
  • lack of care coordination
  • lack of personalized care
  • long gaps in-between appointments

The question is not is tech helpful, it’s are the tools of healthcare technology available for everyone to access

Healthcare Apps That Help Keep Track 

Healthcare apps have inundated the marketplace (read App stores). These apps can do a host of things:

  • help patients keep track of nutrition and exercise
  • provide health-related reminders
  • connect with their doctor’s office
  • even be used for telehealth (virtual) visits with the doctor

Depending on the company that has developed the app, it may be free or there may be a membership fee. Here are a few examples, in no particular order or capability:

  • Apps that can track medication intake and will send reminders: Medisafe, EveryDose, Mango Health*
  • Nutrition apps that help log your caloric intake and make shopping recommendations, among other things: MyFitnessPal, MyPlate
  • Hosting your medical records in one digital place so you can have your records when visiting any doctor: Onerecord, MyChart

*Mango Health offers several patient support options beyond tracking medicine intake

Reaching Your Doctor via Telemedicine

Telemedicine—virtual care delivered by audio or video call—can be a convenient mode of care delivery. Especially for those restricted by their age, their disease condition, or the frequency of visits. It also takes away the need to drive (or use public transport), park, and wait at a doctor’s office. The ease of consulting with your doctor from your living room can also ease the burden on your caregiver. 

A significant advantage of telemedicine is the reduction in exposure to infectious diseases. This is a boon for those suffering from chronic conditions, are immunocompromised, or the older population. Another advantage is being able to reach doctors across state lines (depending on the laws of your state of residence). 

The Center for Connected Health Policy has developed a good resource for state-wise regulations around telehealth. 

Equity and Access Challenges With Healthcare Technology

Some of the potential challenges that patients may face when using technology to access healthcare include:

  • age
  • economic health
  • geographic location
  • access to technology like a computer or smartphone
  • access to broadband internet
  • insurance status

Lack of familiarity with technology

Not everyone is technology-savvy. Older (65+) adults have been catching up with smartphone ownership compared to a decade ago, but many still don’t. The older population may tentative of the internet, health apps or telemedicine simply because of a lack of familiarity. 

A simple solution could be to provide education on using these technologies and to provide support services when they face issues. 

Broadband internet

Broadband access is another significant access issue. Six percent of the overall population (19 million people) lack access to a fixed broadband service. Those in rural locations are the hardest hit: 25% of rural Americans cannot access broadband internet services. Low-income populations seem the hardest hit. A 2021 survey found about 24% of respondents whose annual household income was below $30,000 did not own a smartphone. Furthermore, about 43% did not have broadband at home.

Coverage for Telehealth

Insurance status is another important factor, especially for coverage of telehealth services. Both federal and private health plans made telehealth widely accessible to their members in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. While the policies are evolving, telehealth seems to have the backing of the U.S. Congress, as is evident from the language within the recent Cures 2.0 bill that was introduced in the House in November 2021. Several other pieces of legislation that support telehealth have been presented to our lawmakers.

The health technology industry has seen a significant boom in recent years, but like every other innovation, it has challenges. However, there is no arguing the value that it brings to patient care once the educational and access issues are addressed.

additional reading

“Cures 2.0 Proposes New Agency for Health, Expansion of Medicare’s Telehealth Services

Surabhi Dangi Garamella

Surabhi Dangi-Garimella, Ph.D. is a biologist with academic research experience, who brings her skills and knowledge to the health care communications world. She provides writing and strategic support to non-profit groups via her consultancy, SDG AdvoHealth, LLC.

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