In the pandemic, I’ve been weaving together data to better understand how people as consumers are being re-shaped in daily life across their Maslow Hierarchies of Needs. One of those basic needs has been digital connectivity.

People of color have faced many disparities in the wake of the pandemic: the virus itself, exacting greater rates of mortality and morbidity being the most obvious, dramatic inequity.

Another has been digital inequity. Black people have had a more difficult time paying for phone and Internet connections during the COVID-19 crisis, we learned in a Morning Consult poll fielded in June 2020.

In my ongoing analysis of American life beginning anew in new ways in March 2020, I have found that folks have undergone personal digital transformation at home — when people have had access to the Internet in the pandemic era.

Two “C’s” underpin this important digital transformation: the “Consumer” and “Connected.”

This week, two organizations mission-driven by these “C” words aligned to bolster digital health care transformation for all people — not just those of us advantaged by a bountiful local, accessible portfolio of social determinants of health (SDoH).

One of those SDoH factors is connectivity, WiFi, broadband to the N of 1 — not just to the “last mile.”

The Consumer Technology Association (CTA) and the Connected Health Initiative (CHI) are the two organizations coming together to address an inequity that’s been made so obvious during the COVID-19 pandemic: connectivity, software, and hardware access for people to work, live, educate, and access health care from home.

The effort is called the Health Equity and Access Leadership (HEAL) Coalition.

Here’s a link to the press release., which quotes Rene Quashie, CTA’s VP of Digital health, saying:

“The rise of digital health technology gives us a unique opportunity to help advance health equity, improve access to care, increase health care quality and lower costs.  Disparities in health have long been an issue in the U.S., and the COVID-19 pandemic has only exposed those gaps. With greater use and adoption of technology, we can help reduce inefficiencies and provide more personalized care for marginalized patients and consumers.”

The CHI’s view is that technology can bridge health care providers with patients, regardless of where that patient or provider is located.

But we, “must make a greater effort to examine how technology can help close the gaps in the provision of care due to racial disparities within the healthcare system,” Brian Scarpelli, CHI’s senior global policy counsel, said.

Organizations working on the HEAL project include the American Medical Association, AT&T, Best Buy Health, Boston Children’s Hospital, Cambria Health, Google, Grapevine Health, HP, Intel, Microsoft, MLEM, Omron Healthcare, ResMed, Rimidi, University of Mississippi Medical Center, University of Virginia Center for Telehealth and Validic. In addition, the Brookings Institute, Kapor Center, Plum Alley Ventures, along with observers from relevant government agencies like the FCC will inform the program.

Health Populi’s Hot Point: I am a long-time member of the CTA since their welcoming digital health to the aisles of CES (the Consumer Electronics Show). It’s been over a decade since digital health was embedded at the annual mega-meeting, fast-growing year after year.

This week, I engaged in conversation with Robin Raskin, who has been the driving force behind the Digital Health Summit and other digital-living themes at CES through her company, Living in Digital Times. Robin and I engaged in a Q&A at this week’s Vision Monday Global Leadership Summit, convening the vision industry (all the O’s — ophthalmology, optometry, opticians, et al). The eye is a gateway for overall health.

In her introduction, Robin reminded me that I’ve been part of her journey in digital health at CES for all these years. Together and from the beginning of digital health at CES, we’ve envisioned a future where people could make health in their own hands, homes, communities, aided by technologies and tools to do so.

In the context of that Holy Grail of a vision, I note that over the past decade of innovating digital health applications, we’ve experienced growing income inequality and at the same time, inequities in access to broadband.

The social determinants of health tend to travel in groups. So factors like food security, a fair wage, transportation access, clean air and water, safe housing, and education together bolster our health, productivity, and ability to pursue happiness in America.

The HEAL project recognizes the fact that no one public policy nor single organization can address these factors, nor systemic racism in U.S. health care noted in the IOM report, Unequal Treatment — which was published in 2003. That book called out racial and ethnic disparities in health care in America.

Nearly twenty years later since Unequal Treatment was published, CTA and CHI stakeholders recognize this opportune moment to deal with health inequality and health care as a civil right, underpinned by technology access and equity. In my book Health Citizenship: How a virus opened hearts and minds, I call this pillar “digital citizenship.”

We laud the HEAL effort, and look forward to supporting its mission along our journey toward empowering all people in the U.S. to become empowered, engaged health citizens.

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