Study Says Healthcare Information Technology can Close Demographic Gap

February 25, 2013

Healthcare has long been a divisive issue in political discourse, lending itself easily to class warfare between those who can afford coverage and those who cannot. But new innovations in healthcare information technology could have a profound effect on closing that gap between the haves and the have-nots in the American healthcare system, according to a recent report released at a White House summit.

The report, titled "Equity in the Digital Age: How Health Information Technology Can Reduce Disparities," emphasizes the importance of embracing new technologies in order to address the inequality in today's health system.

The federal government's emphasis on technological advancement is nothing new. Technology became a greater focus in 2009 with the federal stimulus package, and also in 2010 with the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

The consulting company Alexander Proudfoot said recently that the ACA has dramatically changed the landscape of the healthcare marketplace. Healthcare IT is being forced into the mainstream, and organizations that fail to adapt will be left behind.

Healthcare enrollment numbers soaring
Proudfoot estimates that by 2014, approximately 30 to 40 million new customers will enroll in healthcare plans, as a direct result of the ACA's individual mandate and coverage subsidies. Executive vice president Lawrence Keeley said that while hiring more staff and buying an expensive ERP system would be one way to address the extra workload, the extra personnel would lead to financial strain.

"Having the foresight to develop capacity models that determine the number of front-line staff and management needed to maintain optimal performance will become critical to the long-term viability of an organization," Keeley said.

The study unveiled at the White House, hosted by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, among others, said that closing the demographic gap should be a particular point of emphasis.

"We have a great opportunity to improve quality of care, enhance patient participation and understanding, and reduce health disparities nationwide through the use of HIT," said Ellen Wu, who directed the study.

Specifically, healthcare IT can enable providers to collect and analyze data more quickly and efficiently. With easier access to data, they can find demographic disparities among races, ethnicities and languages. More data on language disparities will help hospitals make decisions on hiring interpreters and printing materials in other languages.