How to mitigate against widening health inequalities, when focusing on digital technology for health?

“The digital divide and health inequalities often intersect, with groups most likely to need healthcare being the ones least likely to have strong digital skills. Many people will need to be taught how to use digital technology, as well as improving other literacy skills if they are to be included in the future of digital healthcare”.Dr Omer Ali, Dr Elizabeth Dalgarno, Dr Claudia Pagliari and Professor Arpana Verma.

I believe access to culturally and linguistically competent technological devices and ongoing support will be crucial for disadvantaged communities. Approaches to digital inclusion that seek to address barriers to access and skills, as well as trust and privacy concerns, are needed to mitigate against digital approaches contributing to inequalities.

A review by Honeyman M, Maguire D, Evans H and Davies A (2020)Digital technology and health inequalities: a scoping review (2020)  highlighted that:

Technologies can also be designed to address the specific needs of disadvantaged groups. Approaches found in this review included meaningfully involving users, tailoring services and interventions to target groups’ contexts, delivering credible messages and having a clear logic model of how services using technology improve health. The development of a robust evaluation of these kinds of approaches and their impact on health would be welcomed. More United Kingdom (UK) -specific and local data and research about digital exclusion and health inequalities are also needed, alongside constant monitoring of the nature of digital exclusion, which changes over time as technology and its role in our lives change over time.

There are concerns that the system may inadvertently widen health inequalities and this should be taken seriously, but it should not mean the pursuit of a more digitised health system to be abandoned or curtailed. Indeed, the use of digital technology will present new ways to address some of them. We should invest in inclusion as part of this digitisation.

That’s why at CheckUp Health we are developing the CheckUp Health app and clinical dashboard weaving in cultural and linguistic competencies at the design stage and involving users as we work on the AI decision-making elements of the platform. The Checkup Health App platform is an NHS Digital Framework approved software for rollout in NHS healthcare settings and comes with IOS and Android Apps.

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