April is National Minority Health Month, a time to focus on the health disparities that impact racial and ethnic minority populations and encourage action through health education, early detection, and control of disease complications. Despite progress in recent years, significant gaps remain in terms of access to quality healthcare and health outcomes between minority groups and the rest of the population. Digital technologies offer tremendous potential to address these disparities, but there is a disconnection between where digital strategies are developed and where the need is greatest. In this blog post, we will explore some of the ways public health communications can use digital technologies to close the health disparity gap.
Health disparities have been exacerbated by the current COVID-19 pandemic. Health issues that disproportionately affect racial and ethnic populations are often rooted in social factors, such as poverty, institutional bias, and lack of access to qualified health centers resulting in a higher prevalence of cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and HIV/AIDS. In order to address these health disparities, we must first understand the social factors that contribute to them. Social Determinants of Health, or the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work, and age, are a major focus of public health research. To combat the social factors that contribute to health disparities, we need interventions that reach people where they live, work, play, and pray; one of our best outreach tools is digital communications.
The Digital Divide is the term used to describe the gap between those who have access to technology and those who do not. This divide is often most pronounced among racial and ethnic minority groups, who are less likely to have access to high-speed internet and computer equipment. This divide has far-reaching implications for health, education, and employment.
Digital technologies offer a number of unique advantages in the effort to reduce health disparities. First and foremost, they are widely used by racial and ethnic minority populations. According to recent studies, minorities are more likely than other groups to use the internet, social media, and mobile devices for a variety of purposes including staying informed about health issues, finding healthcare information, and managing their own health. Additionally, digital technologies can be tailored to the specific needs of different communities and delivered at a lower cost than traditional interventions.
Despite the opportunity to use digital strategies to address health disparities, there is a disconnection between where digital strategies are developed and where the need is greatest. A large majority of digital health programs are developed in the United States, while the need is greatest in low- and middle-income countries. This mismatch can be attributed to a number of factors, including lack of resources, limited technical expertise, and cultural differences. Another challenge is that public health officials often do not have the training or background necessary to develop effective digital strategies.
5 Digital Interventions You Can Use to Work Toward Health Equity
Digital interventions can work to improve health equity when they are targeted, culturally relevant, and use the right platforms.
Here are 5 digital strategies that have been shown to be effective in reducing health disparities:
For example, mobile apps can be used to deliver culturally relevant health content, reminders, and peer support. Social media can be used to disseminate information about health screenings and resources. And text messaging campaigns can target specific groups with
-Text message campaigns: Text messages are a quick and easy way to communicate with patients. They can be used to remind patients about appointments, promote healthy behaviors, and provide educational information.
-Social media campaigns: Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter can be used to reach large numbers of people with health messages.
-Mobile apps: Mobile apps can be used to track symptoms, monitor vital signs, and provide educational information.
-E-learning modules: E-learning modules can be used to provide training on a variety of topics, including medical procedures, infection control, and patient safety.
-Telehealth: Telehealth can be used to provide access to care for patients in rural or underserved areas.
Digital interventions have the potential to reach large numbers of people with health messages. However, it is important that they are targeted to the right audiences and use the right platforms. By tailoring interventions to specific communities and using appropriate digital technologies, campaigns must have imagery that represents the community it is meant to serve and have inclusive language.
Public health communications can use digital technologies to close the health disparity gap in a number of ways:
- Use social media to share information about health disparities and how to address them
- Create online resources in multiple languages that provide information about health conditions, treatments, and prevention
- Develop interactive games and quizzes that teach people about their health risks
- Use text messaging to send reminders about appointments and screenings
- Create chatbots that provide information about health conditions and services
Digital technologies offer a unique opportunity to reach racial and ethnic minority populations with messages about health and wellness. It's National Public Health Week - what are you doing to close the health disparities gap? Let us know in the comments!
-Grossman, D., & Laden, F. (2016). Closing the Digital Divide for Health Equity: Opportunities and Challenges