It is time to use our available tools to create equitable healthcare solutions.
With 2023 well underway, health care payers and providers are growing more focused on ensuring equity in patient care. Unfortunately, systemic inequities are complex roadblocks for many who need care and critical services. The National Library of Medicine credits several structural factors, including economic, environmental, social, and fundamental disparities, that can negatively affect access to health care, living conditions, and overall health.
Besides the impact on health outcomes, inequities cause massive inefficiencies and are costly. A nine-year analysis by the Urban Institute found that racial disparities cost health insurance companies about $337 billion. As the health inequity problem has been well-documented in the literature for decades, and multiple root causes have been identified, we are at a critical point in health care where we must consider these issues as we develop new health care technologies.
Addressing inequities with technology
Access to health care is a core issue in health equity. Health care access involves a variety of factors, including insurance coverage, physical access to health care facilities, and managing costs of care for patients. With an eye toward technology to address some of these issues, solution developers should consider the impacts on health equity when building platforms and tools. For example, technology models that include telehealth can improve health care access. As programs are developed, recognizing that telehealth differs among population groups (the elderly and the socioeconomically disadvantaged, for example) enables the developers to account for specific populations and follow outcomes to determine if the proposed solutions are successful at closing gaps. This way, instead of a model where we look back to describe gaps, we can consider equity up front and integrate solutions from the beginning.
Being able to access quality, evidence-based health care is another aspect that can help improve health equity. Utilizing technology that harnesses evidence-based data and treatment protocols to select the most appropriate care plan for individual patients is one way to ensure evidence-based health care for all patients. This technology can help save money and resources while still delivering high-quality care and providing accurate and actionable data. The approach is especially beneficial when choosing optimal, evidence-based paths in specialized areas like oncology, where the data is plenty and the pace of new treatment options is rapid — for instance, the FDA approved and expanded indications in 46 oncology drugs in 2021.
In specialty care, biosimilar medications can mitigate costs and improve patient access to needed drugs. A biosimilar is a drug very close in structure and function to a biological medicine. Biosimilars can be used to treat conditions like inflammatory bowel disease, psoriasis, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, and more. In oncology, biosimilars have saved millions of dollars since being introduced to the market in 2015. In 2023, at least eight biosimilars for the autoimmune drug Humira, the most expensive drug in the U.S. to date, are scheduled to launch. Using biosimilars can decrease costs across the health care system, including patient out-of-pocket expenses. Technology enabling biosimilar use is another way to impact health care costs and patient access.
Through platforms connected to an advanced research library with data and tools to deliver high-quality care, physicians and payers have thousands of proven treatments, new biosimilars, federally registered clinical trials, anticipated outcomes, and cost estimations at their fingertips, helping them select the best treatment plan for their patients. This technology guarantees consistent care for patients across health systems, ensuring uniformity and access to the most updated treatment data regardless of the patient’s chosen health system.
Accessing health equity
It is time to use our available tools to create equitable health care solutions. Using technology in various forms to address the root causes of health care inequity can help move the needle and is most useful when we purpose-build solutions. Tools like telehealth and treatment plan validation can aid physicians in decision-making aligned with evidence-based protocols and cost efficiencies. It’s a step forward in gaining ground on equitable health for all.