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Reposted from Health IT Buzz blog
During National Minority Health Month, we acknowledge the potential for health information technology (health IT) – from electronic and personal health
records to online communities to mobile applications – to transform health care and improve the health of racial and ethnic minorities. Lack of access to
quality, preventive health care, cultural and linguistic barriers, and limited patient-provider communication are factors that aggravate health
disparities. By increasing our investment in health IT policies and standards, we can help improve the quality of health care delivery and make it easier
for patients and providers to communicate with each other – a huge step toward addressing the persistence of health disparities.
Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project
found in 2012 that African Americans and Latinos are more likely to own a mobile phone than whites and outpace whites in mobile app use, using their phones
for a wider range of activities. The study showed that African Americans and Latinos use their mobile phones more often to look for health information
online. This has very important implications for personal management of health and interaction with the health care system. However, barriers to widespread
adoption of health IT remain. For example, a 2014 consumer engagement report found that minorities were less likely to adopt online patient portals to
access their health information than were non-Hispanic whites. Additionally, limited financial capital and lack of systems that can communicate effectively
with each other widen the digital divide between providers and other clinicians who provide health services to a significant number of minority
At the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) and the HHS Office of Minority Health
(OMH) are committed to reducing technology gaps across and between communities of color as a key action of the HHS Action Plan to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities and
ensuring that the new electronic tools can support access to quality care and promote equity for everyone. This includes a targeted strategy focused on
four core areas:
1. Adoption of health IT in all communities;
2. Improving patient care by creating culturally and linguistically appropriate eHealth tools;
3. Facilitating secure exchange and confidentiality of patient data; and
4. Patient-centered consumer engagement.
Last year, ONC, OMH and ZeroDivide convened a diverse group of stakeholders at the White House to discuss how to advance eHealth among the underserved and
the role eHealth can play in achieving health equity. The discussion generated many ideas about increasing patient engagement using eHealth, identified
opportunities to work collaboratively, and committed participants to taking action following the meeting. The White House Summit on Achieving eHealth
Equity was followed by a webinar during which participants continued the dialogue and proposed specific action steps that are included in the briefing
In 2009, HHS enacted the Health Information Technology and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, which laid the foundation and groundwork for health IT adoption
efforts for many healthcare professionals across the United States. Today, more than 70 percent of physicians and other healthcare clinicians practicing in
medically underserved and health professional shortage areas are engaged in efforts to adopt health IT, thanks to the work of the Regional Extension Center program. Adoption of technology is also
laying the foundation for communities to participate in and test out new payment models for care:
Health IT is already helping to improve chronic disease management and care coordination for health care providers and their patients, allowing the
development of targeted strategies focused on reducing chronic disease and other health issues that disproportionately impact communities of color.
It also has implications for prevention efforts. For example,
heart disease is the leading cause of death
across most racial and ethnic minority populations, accounting for 25 percent of all deaths, but many of the major risk factors for heart disease and
stroke, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking and obesity are preventable. The Millions Hearts Initiative is a national effort to prevent
one million heart attacks and strokes by 2017. This public-private partnership brings together communities, health systems, nonprofit organizations,
federal agencies and private-sector partners from across the country to fight heart disease and stroke. At ONC, Health IT Fellows – physicians and staff
who are using health IT as part of their everyday practice—are looking for specific ways to align the Million Hearts Initiative with technical assistance
and provider outreach programs with the goal of increasing the number of healthcare professionals using technology to detect and control hypertension and
other innovative strategies to engage in patient-centered care.
Through the interoperability and standards work at ONC, we are making sure patient information is secure and universally accessible to those who are
authorized to see it when they need it. Making sure the appropriate technical standards and specifications are in place is critical to establishing a fully
functional nationwide health IT ecosystem. Ensuring that providers have the right information about the right patient at the right time is essential to
advancing overall quality of care for everyone and improving health outcomes for the underserved.
Early experiences with health IT adoption demonstrate that
technology can lower costs
by improving transition of care processes and enhancing a health care professional’s ability to serve their patients with precision, especially for
minority communities. Hurricane Katrina is an example of this. The
use of mobile technology helped to meet the health needs of the community members
, especially minorities, as 75 percent of those affected by Katrina had access to a cell phone.
As we continue to push a national agenda to transform health care and advance health equity, we encourage communities and advocates to join the discussion.
For a list of current initiatives and opportunities to engage with HHS around health IT and health care transformation, visit www.healthit.gov. To learn more about National Minority Health Month and what HHS is doing to reduce health
disparities and to achieve health equity, visit www.minorityhealth.hhs.gov.
Prevention is Power!
J. Nadine Gracia, MD, MSCE, is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for
Minority Health in the Office of Minority Health at the Department
of Health and Human Services. The Office of Minority Health develops and coordinates Federal health
policy that addresses minority health concerns and ensures that Federal, State and local health
programs take into account the needs of disadvantaged, racial and ethnic populations.
Karen DeSalvo, MD, MPH, SCD, is the National Coordinator for
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