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How can Virtual Care Close Health Care Disparities?

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When the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was enacted in 2010, the goal was to provide healthcare to all Americans. Yet, more than a decade later, the United States witnesses significant healthcare disparities, despite spending more on healthcare than any other country in the world.

Many factors contribute to healthcare disparities, but the three most common are unequal access to quality healthcare, social determinants of health, and implicit bias. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, minorities and those who live in rural regions face several barriers to getting medical treatment, including poorer finances, restricted transportation options, and long travel times. As a result, there is a higher chance that people living in these neighborhoods may develop chronic health issues, including diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. So, patients from racial and ethnic minority groups are almost twice as likely to experience chronic illnesses as Caucasians, which may contribute to Black or African American individuals in the United States having a four-year shorter average life expectancy than White people.

Moreover, systemic racism contributes to poor health outcomes, as seen by the rising COVID-19 death rates among communities of color. Immigrants have a higher risk of sickness and less access to medical treatment, which is worsened by the fact that those residing in rural areas are more prone to falling prey to illnesses. The National Institute of Health (NIH) reports that healthcare disparities often result in a lower quality of care for marginalized groups. 

Reducing healthcare disparities is a complex task that requires effort from many different sectors, including government, healthcare organizations, communities, and individuals. Its negative impact on the quality and quantity of life of those affected makes it a priority to combat.

Fortunately, virtual care can significantly close these disparities by creating more equitably distributed health outcomes that result from the elimination of conventional treatment restrictions in the following ways:

Removing Barriers.

Problems such as lack of access to a vehicle or living far away often result in patients missing their doctor's appointments. In fact, those with the highest disease burden also have the most significant mobility hurdles and are more likely to be older, poorer, less educated, female, persons of color, and those with impairments or chronic diseases. Virtual care can remove such barriers by connecting patients with providers who they might not otherwise be able to access due to distance, transportation, or mobility issues. 

Additionally, it is challenging to guarantee patient safety, provide high-quality healthcare, and increase patient and medical staff satisfaction when language barriers are involved. These can be removed with virtual care since providers can use interpretation services during virtual visits. 

Through virtual care, doctors may even be able to determine social barriers that keep a patient from receiving care, like food insecurity, racial prejudice when gaining access to services, or even trouble getting health insurance. This information can allow healthcare professionals to get involved and take necessary action.

Cost Reduction.

People without primary care physicians may visit urgent care facilities or emergency rooms when a health problem arises. However, virtual care offers them a more practical and inexpensive alternative by providing telemedicine services, basically virtual versions of urgent care clinics, especially for those without health insurance or high deductible plans. With these services, consumers are told upfront of the cost of an online consultation, preventing hefty surprise fees later. Moreover, the cost of transportation is also diminished.

Virtual care is also typically less expensive than in-person options because these encounters don't always require extra employees. Some insurance companies even provide free 24-hour nurse lines or telemedicine visits as part of their coverage, which is a great way to avoid the sometimes high copayments. 

Enable Patients to Manage Recurring Conditions.

The best ways to manage a chronic ailment are typically not fully understood by patients with limited healthcare access. Regular virtual care contact can be used as a teaching technique to assist patients in better managing their condition. In addition, it can empower patients to take greater control of their health by providing them with educational resources online. Regular check-ins with patients via teleconference can help to ensure that they stay on track with their health goals, which can prevent serious health complications that may arise as a result of the chronic illness. Additionally, teleconferencing can help patients keep appointments with specialists who may not be accessible otherwise.

Higher Inclusivity.

Clinical studies have consistently shown racial and ethnic differences. Clinical trials that do not adequately include members of racial/ethnic minority groups as participants lead to the creation of therapies that do not effectively treat various populations or transfer to real-world applications. 

Getting to the actual clinical study site is one of the main obstacles to participation. In a standard trial, patients must frequently travel to a central location for evaluations, the delivery of therapy, testing to track results, and the dispensing of drugs for at-home use. This can take several hours every trip and cost money for food and transportation. These constraints discriminate against people with little discretionary cash, limited transit alternatives, rigid job schedules, and family responsibilities.

However, by utilizing remote patient monitoring (RPM), distance obstacles are reduced and time is saved, allowing for more patient involvement and data collection that can help researchers better assess the experiment's validity. 

Eliminate inequities with Navix Health.

In order to lessen the effects of healthcare inequalities on your patients in marginalized regions, Navix Health provides virtual care solutions to fundamentally alter the way behavioral healthcare businesses operate by allowing ease of virtual communication to practitioners so they can devote their attention to the (online and off-line) patient, who is ultimately what matters.

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