Inequality has soared in the United States in recent years. “If you want to observe the problems of poverty and inequality, you don’t need to travel all the way to Malawi. You can go to a rural house in America…” explains Ichiro Kawachi, chair of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences.
This problem is intensified in the current healthcare system, especially due to COVID-19. Telehealth and remote patient monitoring (RPM) could be a step in the right direction.
Rural communities frequently lack medical resources in comparison to urban areas. RPM can provide more frequent and higher quality data for healthcare providers. Not only do people save time by not physically attending visits, but platforms like Sentinel can immediately notify providers of sudden emergencies such as heart attacks or strokes.
In addition to geographic location, language barriers also pose a significant challenge for equal healthcare. It is estimated that more than 1 in 15 patients have low English proficiency (LEP) in the United States. This number is expected to rise in the coming years.
According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), LEP patients have a higher risk of inadequate informed consent, a greater chance of hospital readmission due to poor communication, and longer hospital stays.
Telehealth platforms could better integrate translation software as many hospitals are understaffed to meet the rising demand. By having better RPM technology, non-English speaking patients would be more equipped to communicate with their doctors to ensure better recovery scenarios.
However, more needs to be done to improve internet access to all communities. For example, Pew Research estimates that people of color are seven percent less likely to have a stable internet connection. For telehealth to be most effective, policymakers and healthcare providers must first bridge this gap.
Telehealth will not solve all of the problems occurring in the current healthcare system. But, it is a promising start.