Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, one item that has been a consistent topic of debate is health equity. Whether it is in terms of testing resources, vaccine distribution or general pandemic aid to individuals, health equity has been a focus of public health, medical and other healthcare professionals. As seen with the vaccine rollouts of Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson, many groups, particularly seniors and communities of color, have had disproportionate results in receiving doses. As we continue to vaccinate the population and eventually enter the recovery phase of this pandemic, it is crucial that any health equity promotion and advocacy include digital and technological equity, too.
One thing this pandemic has shown us is our increasing reliance on digital technology. Not only for shopping, but also for receiving and accessing medical information and services. Seniors and many communities have struggled to access vaccine appointments, especially with the Vaccine Administration Management System, commonly now known as VAMS during the pandemic.
Many individuals without emails, Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely (SMART) technology or reliable Internet struggled to find vaccines sites, which created backlogs and administrative burdens for vaccine providers such as hospitals and local health departments.
We live in a digital and technologically dependent world. Our day-to-day routines include the use of some technology at one point or another. It is surprising that in 2021, there are people who still do not have basic computer skills such as using an email or how to safely and efficiently navigate the internet. It is crucial for medical, healthcare and public health professionals, who have taken health equity as a mantra, to promote digital and technological equity for the communities they serve.
I would strongly recommend that all health equity advocates incorporate digital and technological equity into their mission statements and objectives. Local and state social and senior services need to provide resources for communities on how to efficiently, safely and professionally utilize digital infrastructure. This will be required as technology further becomes a necessity for our day to day lives. Everyone in society should have an email (preferably professional, personal and junk mail ones), a SMART device that can connect them to readily accessibly social and other health related services, and access to 5G infrastructure and reliable wireless internet.
Lastly, a dedicated commitment by all social and health professionals to provide such services and technology should be a primary focus as we continue to respond and recover from the pandemic.
To conclude, this pandemic has only strengthened technology’s input on our daily lives. As we strive for health equity in this pandemic and afterward, digital and technological equity must be included with it. Technology is becoming more and more essential and entrenched in healthcare settings and delivery of services. Communities, especially those at higher risk for adverse health outcomes must have reliable access to technology to seek out the services they need.
Christopher Seery, a public health professional, lives in Norwich.