"It's not a faith in technology. It's faith in people."
Digital technology has the potential to make healthcare more inclusive in several ways. As we shall see, the key is that it must remain inclusive regardless of socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, culture, faith, sexual orientation, or gender. Potentially digital technology can improve health coaching access. The majority of health coaches serve clients online. Telehealth technologies, as we all know, help people access care from the comfort of their own homes. Ideally, it increases access to health information online and allows people to make wiser healthcare decisions.
Digital technology can reduce costs. It saves commuting costs. It can also help clients schedule their sessions outside working hours, often reducing flexibility and care access. Electronic health records (EHRs) can help improve communication between healthcare providers, leading to better care coordination and fewer errors. When used wisely, digital technologies give patients more information and tools for managing their health and wellbeing.
Mobile health apps can help patients track their health data, such as their weight, blood pressure, and activity levels. This information can help patients stay on track with their health goals and identify potential health problems early on.
Digital technologies can help break down care barriers involving language. Patient education can significantly improve if coaches translate healthcare information into multiple languages.
Digital technologies have the potential to alleviate transportation challenges. Telehealth services can help patients who live in rural areas or who have difficulty getting to a doctor's office.
In short, digital technology can make healthcare more inclusive for all people by improving access to care, reducing costs, enhancing patient engagement, and breaking down barriers. These are just a few examples of how coaches can use digital technology to improve healthcare inclusivity.
As digital technology continues to evolve, we can see even more innovative ways to utilize it to improve the health and well-being of all people. Specific populations have the potential to benefit dramatically from digital technology.
"It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity."
Researchers also point out that digital technology is not the great equalizer we think it is. In 2019, the European Journal of Public Health found that the level of education attained, poor computer skills, literacy skills, age and ability to pay for the technology all play a role in determining the uptake and use of digital health technologies. This study illustrates how one’s socio-economic status and related factors have important implications in assessing the equity impact of digital technologies. Digital skills measured by computer self-efficacy are essential to online health information use in older adults. Finally, national economic development and geographic location are a third set of structural factors that determine usage patterns of digital technologies, which could also impact health equity. (Sørensen, K. 2019).
Digital technology must fit an inclusive and diverse approach. Inequities and systemic racism are built within the very systems we use every day and have real consequences, such as who gets on the kidney transplant list and who does not. Health coaches and healthcare organizations, in general, must learn from past mistakes and consider:
Recognize unconscious and conscious bias within systems of digital technology. Unconscious biases can affect how healthcare providers diagnose and treat patients. Unchecked biases create cycles of systemic inequalities in health care.
Assess the Social Determinants of Health concerning digital technology. Race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, ability, and socioeconomic status can significantly impact access to digital technology at many levels. Ignoring social determinants of health can lead to healthcare access and outcomes disparities.
Make inclusion and diverse representation a priority at every level of technological access. Do coaches and healthcare providers represent the communities they serve? Can they build trust, follow cultural competencies and incorporate inclusive perspectives and experience? Is digital access helping to create a more equitable healthcare environment? Are training programs focused on health equity and social determinants of health?
Are language barriers addressed when a patient reads the first printed material related to health coaching? Patients who speak a different language than their healthcare providers may need help accessing healthcare services and understanding medical instructions. Health coaches must ensure that language services and culturally appropriate communication exist for all patients so that they can access and understand healthcare services.
Engage in diverse learning activities, regularly, to facilitate understanding diverse patient populations and continuously work on cultural humility.
Stay on top of data that tracks disparities in digital technology in the coaching field. Tracking will help coaches increase industry awareness regarding inequities, identify areas for improvement, and measure the impact of interventions. Before colleagues assume that there is a digital transformation in medical and health care, Engage them to protect the health of the most vulnerable. We have to monitor the impact and use of digital technology so that it does not become another force for increasing health inequity.
Tapping into the digital world can help democratize people’s health through increased access to information regarding healthcare, disease prevention, and health promotion. From a societal point of view, however, we owe it to everyone to build digital health technologies that are equitable, even in health coaching.
Sørensen, K. (2019). Towards an equitable digital public health era: Promoting equity through a health literacy perspective. European Journal of Public Health, 29(Supplement_3), 13-17. https://doi.org/10.1093/eurpub/ckz166