Health care panel discusses accessibility, innovation in telehealth

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Ted Eytan/Creative Commons
Experts from different health care fields met to discuss research on telehealth and implications for increasing equity in health. Photo by Ted Eytan under CC BY-SA 2.0

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Experts from different health care fields met Tuesday to discuss research on telehealth and other digital health solutions and their implications for increasing equity in health.

The panel, hosted by campus-based California Initiative for Health Equity and Action, was moderated by Adimika Arthur, founding executive director for HealthTech 4 Medicaid, who kicked off panelist presentations by laying out a discussion framework.

She set three “learning goals”: understanding the linkages between data, digital technology and health equity within communities; understanding influences causing inequities in technology “innovation spaces” such as research and data gaps; and exploring how “cross-sector” partners can advance health equity using technology.

Mary Reed, a research scientist for Kaiser Permanente Northern California, introduced her pre-pandemic research on telehealth, which highlighted some of the barriers of telehealth and other findings.

Because traditional doctor visits can be so time-consuming, patients are generally “very interested” in telemedicine, but some have access barriers that make it hard to use, Reed said during the event.

Patients may be less likely to access video telehealth appointments if they are older or a nonnative English speaker. By contrast, patients who are younger, Black or Asian, or have higher technology access, among other things, are more likely to choose video appointments with their primary care providers, Reed added.

However, according to Reed, patients who have had previous telehealth experience are likely to choose it again across demographics.

“There’s a lot of support that we’ve learned goes into getting patients through their first digital visit,” Reed said during the event. “We need to keep studying the way the pandemic is changing telemedicine in the long run.”

Adrian Aguilera, associate professor at both the UC Berkeley School of Social Welfare and the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at UC San Francisco, next discussed research using text messaging to provide supplementary mood tracking and support for people suffering from depression.

People who received the messaging attended twice as many group therapy sessions than those who did not, according to Aguilera.

Associate professor at both the UC Davis Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing and UC Davis School of Medicine Katherine Kim also presented, discussing solutions for equity when serving “rural and underserved” people using digital health.

Kim affirmed that access issues come with telemedicine, noting that not all people have access to the internet.

Programs for rural places also need to be adapted to both language and cultural differences, according to Kim.

As the panelists closed, they reflected on their takeaways from the event.

“The most important take for me is how important it is to collaborate,” Kim said during the event. “We need — all of us — to work together to come up with those comprehensive solutions.”

Contact Sebastian Cahill at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @SebastianCahil1.