Today, healthcare is at a defining moment, at the heart of macro-social transformation. U.S. demographics are radically shifting, and technological advances are spreading rapidly and widely. The core conditions of people’s daily lives are changing as well. It is thus difficult, for example, to ignore the remarkable penetration of new, persuasive technology into modern daily life, not only by commercial technological giants such as Amazon and Facebook, but also by small online merchants.
Health systems are in transition, as they begin to adopt new advances in medical technology. As we move closer to fully digitalized medical records, drug delivery, education, and even consultation health disparity researchers need to be asking ourselves a few questions:
- Will we see an equitable benefit across patient populations of different socio-economic backgrounds?
- Will certain communities or populations experience even wider health disparity due to this rapidly changing environment of advanced digital technologies?
- What should we do to move towards more equitable solutions?
At HER, we have not only been thinking about these questions, but have been actively pursuing ways to utilize advanced technologies in managing and preventing chronic conditions in underserved populations. In collaboration with a number of transdisciplinary research colleagues at HER, we have been developing a few technology-assisted intervention prototypes, tailored to the unique needs of traditionally underserved populations. From developing serious video games to educate self-management principles to underserved populations with chronic illness, creating flexible online and social media platforms for patient support and resource sharing, educating community health workers as technology brokers for socially isolated populations with limited resources, the list is rapidly expanding.
We are particularly proud of our work on community-engaged projects to improve community health infrastructures, such as our work in developing the role of community health workers (CHWs). With generous funding from Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, we are currently working on establishing a CHW Education and Technical Support Institute (the Institute) to better prepare and assist CHWs in their work to improve the quality of life and health outcomes of underserved populations/communities in Central Texas. We are in the process of completing a comprehensive CHW workforce analysis and developing several demonstration projects that will highlight the effects of community health workers on underserved populations such as socially, linguistically, or geographically isolated rural communities.
While the core of each intervention project has a different clinical focus such as cancer prevention, diabetes management, and “aging in place,” they each employee cutting edge-health technologies to address the unique needs of these priority populations.
Given the innate strengths of CHWs to weave language and culture into evidence-based practices in disadvantaged communities, CHWs may also be ideal technological brokers for health technologies, acting as strong bridges between “digital touch” and “human touch.” CHWs, with proper training, support and coordination, offer a viable way to reduce health disparities among members of underserved populations in this new technological arena.
We look forward to sharing the fruitful outcomes of these exciting projects in future newsletters, and to continued collaboration with our many community and academic partners, as we work hard to address these complex health and social issues.