Friday 30 September 2016

Friday5: 5 Ways Technology is Helping Reduce Health Disparities

By Alexis Cummings, Christen Smiley and Will Ayers

April is designated as Minority Health Month to raise awareness of the disparity in health conditions between minority and non-minority populations. This year, the FDA’s Office of Minority Health (OMH) is collaborating with the HHS Office of Minority Health to celebrate this year’s theme – “30 Years of Advancing Health Equity, The Heckler Report: A Force for Ending Health Disparities in America.” We took this opportunity to focus on five ways technology is being used to alleviate health disparities.

1. Mobile makes health accessible

Multicultural consumers have led the growth in smartphone penetration and according to a Pew Research Center study, Hispanics and African Americans were more likely than non-Hispanic Whites to access health information on their phones. Search topics concerning specific diseases, medical treatments and weight loss were the top search categories for African-American and Hispanic smartphone users.

Researchers at UCLA are currently conducting clinical trials in Los Angeles using a smartphone app that tracks the eating habits of 40 African-American women at risk for heart disease.

2. Building communities

A study completed by the University of Michigan found that a majority of African-American men surveyed said they do not go to the doctor because visits are stressful and physicians don’t provide adequate information on how to make prescribed behavior or lifestyle changes.

Many culturally targeted online communities have sprouted to provide relevant and actionable information such as Black Men Run, Black Girls Run!, Pretty Girls Sweat, and The Healthy Latina*.

3. Social media

According to a late 2014 Pew Research Center survey, Latinos, African Americans and Whites use social media networks equally, but there are differences in their preferences for specific social media sites. Facebook is the most widely used platform regardless of race or ethnicity but Instagram and Twitter are more popular with Latinos and African Americans.

Understanding these nuances is important when trying to connect with these diverse communities. Organizations like the American Heart Association has incorporated social media channels to raise awareness on its EmPowered To Serve initiative, which focuses on improving health in multicultural communities by building a sustainable healthy culture. The American Heart Association’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google+ platforms have a combined audience of 1.3 million followers.

4. Engaging health professionals

In a 2011 Mintel study, about two thirds of both Hispanic and African-American respondents indicated that their health is excellent or generally good – which counters the large amounts of data that proves the opposite to be true. Among these groups, cultural dietary patterns and fear of social stigmatization have been found to deter significant changes in behaviors that lead to a healthy lifestyle, such as diet or exercise lifestyle modification.

Health Net uses its online platform to provide cultural literacy training to its workforce, which enables healthcare professionals to better connect and understand patients from diverse cultural backgrounds.

5. Access to health resources

Wellness websites such as HolaDoctor.com and BlackDoctor.org are online platforms using innovative ways to assist multicultural populations with health information and access. HolaDoctor.com is providing uninsured Hispanics with a tool that provides access to healthcare options through The Affordable Care Act’s special enrollment period. BlackDoctor.org has a similar tool that provides visitors with information on healthcare laws, Medicare, insurance plans and available doctors in their local area.

*Michelle is an Edelman employee

Image credit: rosmary

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