ATA to assess telemedicine’s role in addressing U.S. healthcare disparities

The American Telemedicine Association announced this week that it was launching a new initiative aimed at evaluating telehealth’s potential as a tool to address and eliminate health disparities in the United States.  

The CEO’s Advisory Group on Using Telehealth to Eliminate Disparities and Inequities, comprising more than 30 executives from a range of payer, provider and tech organizations, issued a framework alongside the announcement that will serve as the foundation of ongoing strategic analysis and future policy recommendations.  

“In recent years, we have seen rapidly growing evidence that telehealth services can and should play a central role in strategies to address health disparities in the U.S.,” said Ann Mond Johnson, CEO of the ATA, in a statement. “Our new ATA CEO’s Advisory Group brings together globally recognized leaders in health policy and service delivery who are uniquely positioned to outline the optimal strategies to use telehealth to address this very significant challenge.”  

WHY IT MATTERS  

The advisory group is chaired by Kristi Henderson, CEO for MedExpress at Optum; Yasmine Winkler, independent director at GEHA Health; and Dr. Ron Wyatt, VP & safety officer at MCIC Vermont.  

Its members include representatives from Kaiser Permanente, Intermountain Healthcare, Fenway Health, UnitedHealth, Facebook, Microsoft Health and Salesforce, along with other stakeholders.  

In its report, the group noted that health disparities are a systemic issue, the result of resources being unevenly distributed across communities.  

“Notably, while broadband and connectivity are the focus of a vital investment in our nation’s infrastructure, the Advisory Group believes the broad availability and integration of telehealth can drive the changes needed [in] order to achieve the nation’s goals for health and well-being,” it said.  

Its framework is constructed in a pyramid style, working up from foundational elements that the group says the health industry must acknowledge:  

  • History, culture, trust and structural anti-racism. The framework’s bedwork, which stakeholders must address in order to eliminate disparities
  • Inclusiveness. The advancement of highly specific and effective programs and systems that are deliberately and proactively inclusive
  • Structural Competence. The technical skills and cultural awareness necessary for health professionals to work for and in the best interest of patients
  • Literacy. The framing of how health institutions and professionals communicate with individuals
  • Affordability. A measure of an individual’s financial capacity to access health services for the preservation or improvement of health regardless of socioeconomic conditions
  • Connectivity. The means for individuals to access otherwise un- or less-available services through digital modalities

“The Advisory Group calls on its members, the health industry, policy makers, and influencers to examine how they are practicing the fundamental concepts depicted in the framework and utilize the framework’s nine elements to eliminate disparities,” read the report.   

Over the next year, the advisory group says it will enhance this framework and develop other key deliverables to help the health industry ensure everyone is able to access care using telehealth.  

“With insights from a range of stakeholders, the Advisory Group has introduced a framework that identifies the essential components of a comprehensive plan that can make a positive difference for millions of patients and healthcare systems,” said Mond Johnson.  

THE LARGER TREND  

Stakeholders, policy makers and advocates have emphasized the importance of using telehealth to narrow disparities rather than broaden them. 

It’s not just a matter of broadband infrastructure expansion, although that’s certainly one important element. 

As Mignon Clyburn, former commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission, put it at the ATA’s EDGE policy conference earlier this year: “We wasted a lot of time debating whether broadband was a necessity, but we should have been addressing wide affordability and adoption gaps.”  

ON THE RECORD  

“As we have seen exponential growth in the applications of telehealth services in recent years, we also now have an historic opportunity to consider entirely new approaches to address these challenges more effectively than ever before,” said the advisory group’s Winkler in a statement.

Kat Jercich is senior editor of Healthcare IT News.
Twitter: @kjercich
Email: kjercich@himss.org
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.

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