Many of us in the digital health tech space spend a lot of time discussing the best way for our solutions to really close healthcare gaps, looking at examples of where digital health has made a difference. Intelligent digital health solutions can help improve access to healthcare services, reduce costs, and improve patient outcomes. And while they deserve all the air time they receive, we should also address the access inequalities they create.
Healthcare has long been an industry with questions around accessibility. You would have read the stories about people experiencing long wait times for treatment and how staff in public health facilities often struggle with a lack of resources.
So, when introducing digital health solutions into the mix, we need to find ways to move forward without leaving behind even more people.
What are the challenges currently standing in our way?
Financial barriers: In low-income communities, many people cannot afford high-performing digital devices or fast internet access.
Digital literacy and skills: Not everyone will have the same digital literacy skills. As a result, digital health solutions, which often require a certain level of digital literacy to use, can become a significant barrier to accessing healthcare services.
Limited access to technology: While smartphones and computers are becoming more ubiquitous in many parts of the world, not everyone can access these devices at home or confidentially.
These challenges create significant barriers to accessing digital health solutions and can exacerbate existing health disparities. However, geography was once a barrier to access, which we have partly resolved with telehealth solutions. So, how can we close the gap and overcome these newer inequalities brought on by digital health?
Build tools that are easy to understand
Building tools that are easy to use is essential for people with limited digital literacy skills. We need tools with simple interfaces and navigation. They might include multimedia elements, such as videos or infographics, to help explain complex medical concepts in a way that is easy to understand.
Another critical aspect of developing user-friendly digital health solutions is ensuring the tools are accessible to people with disabilities or visual impairments. Solutions to this include:
- Alternative text for images.
- Using high-contrast colour schemes and removing the reliance on colour as the sole means of conveying information.
- Styling action links and buttons consistently and precisely so they are easily identified.
- Providing options for users to adjust font sizes and colours.
In addition to creating user-friendly interfaces, it is important to ensure that digital health solutions are compatible with a wide range of devices and operating systems so that people can access tools regardless of their devices.
Give providers alternatives for people without access
While digital health solutions can provide a range of benefits for healthcare delivery, we must recognise that not everyone has access to the necessary technology or digital literacy skills required to use them. For this reason, giving healthcare providers alternatives to digital health solutions for people who may not have access is essential.
One approach is educating healthcare providers on the barriers to remote care delivery, particularly for underserved populations. Healthcare providers can learn about the specific needs of different people and develop alternative strategies for delivering tailored care.
For example, healthcare providers can work with community health workers or mobile clinics to provide alternative solutions to people that need remote support. These services can bring healthcare services to people who may not have access to traditional healthcare facilities or have difficulty accessing digital health solutions.
Another approach is to train healthcare providers on using alternative technologies, such as text messaging or voice calls, to communicate with patients and deliver healthcare services. These technologies may be more accessible to people who do not have access to smartphones and computers or have limited data plans.
Ensure that solutions work on devices with limitations
Poor internet connectivity is a significant barrier to accessing digital health solutions, particularly for people who cannot afford high-speed internet or live in remote areas., To support them, we need digital health solutions that remain accessible on restricted and low-bandwidth internet plans.
One approach is to develop solutions that can function offline, using local storage and memory to store data and synchronise with servers when an internet connection becomes available. This way, digital health solutions will remain accessible even when internet connectivity is poor or non-existent.
Many people may use older devices with limited capabilities, like PCs with old versions of Internet Explorer. These devices may be unable to handle newer, more complex digital health solutions such as modern web pages, making it difficult for people to access healthcare services. Optimising digital health solutions for older devices ensures that everyone, regardless of the type of device they use, can access digital healthcare.
Give people the skills to use these solutions
There should also be opportunities for people to learn the skills to use digital health solutions effectively. These include providing educational resources or partnering with community organisations to ensure people can access the necessary support.
These programs could include in-person training sessions, online courses, or instructional videos. Training programs should suit the specific needs and experiences of different populations and be accessible to people with varying levels of digital literacy.
Partnering with community organisations is a great way to ensure people have the necessary support. Partnerships could include working with local healthcare providers, community centres, or non-profits to provide training programs, educational resources, and support for accessing and using digital health solutions.
Digital health solutions can transform healthcare delivery and improve outcomes for people worldwide. However, to realise this potential, we must take note of and address the access inequalities preventing people from effectively using these tools.
By building user-friendly tools, accommodating technology barriers, and giving people the skills needed, we can maximise the number of people benefitting from digital health solutions.
Addressing these challenges will require a multi-faceted approach that involves collaboration between healthcare providers, technology developers, and community organisations. By working together, we can create a healthcare system that is more equitable, accessible, and effective to improve health outcomes for all.
How Fluffy Spider enables connected digital health solutions
We help organisations move toward a future of connected digital healthcare, making existing systems interoperable and modernising infrastructure to unlock the potential of new technologies.
We can help you identify the relevant opportunities to incorporate modern web services and standards for health information exchange, such as HL7 and FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources). We enable systems to interoperate with other modern health information exchange technologies from the medical software industry and those already implemented by large healthcare providers such as Government health departments.
Visit our Healthcare Integration Solutions and Services page to learn more about our capabilities and solutions.