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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!
Each April, National Minority Health Month provides an opportunity to reflect on the progress made to improve the health and well-being of people of color
and remind ourselves of the hard work still ahead to reduce health disparities and inequity.
This year marks five years since the Health Information
Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act and four years
since the monumental Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) were signed into law.
We are more certain than ever that we are on the right track and more hopeful than ever that all people can achieve and maintain their optimal health
The HITECH Act and ACA are designed to improve healthcare access and quality of care for all people living in the United States, but will benefit women of
color in particular. Women of color experience negative reproductive health outcomes at greater rates than their white counterparts, in part because of
lack of access to quality health care. Women of color are more likely to experience an unintended pregnancy, suffer from pregnancy-related diseases and
adverse outcomes, contract sexually-transmitted infections (STI) including HIV, and detect cancer at later stages. Fortunately, because of ACA and HITECH,
more women of color are able to access important health services and use technology to manage their care and track their progress.
The reproductive health field is a poignant example of where HITECH and ACA are working together to help people achieve the health they want. Within ACA,
the no-copay contraceptive coverage requirement ensures that all women are able to access contraception and related services at no additional cost through
their health insurance. So far, 5.4 million people who didn’t have coverage before
now have health insurance. The Guttmacher Institute reports that the percentage of women who obtain pills and contraceptive vaginal rings at no cost has increased from 15 percent to 40
percent and from 23 percent to 52 percent, respectively. It’s working to improve access! Of course, that’s a great thing - research shows that when women are able to access important health care like
contraception, they are better able to achieve their education, career, and economic goals – all of which are important factors that influence health and
well-being of individuals, families, and communities.
While ACA has been working to expand financial access to health care, HITECH has helped providers and patients better manage patient care, enhance quality, and improve health outcomes through
electronic health records (EHR) and other health information technologies. For women, this means being able to view lab results (like STI testing) online
in a timely fashion, track appointments and prenatal progress, and request refills for birth control electronically – this tool is of particular importance
for busy women who are juggling multiple responsibilities. For providers, it means keeping better track of important health information and coordinating
care for patients who have more than one care provider.
Moreover, health information technology and telemedicine have great potential to improve access to quality care for the millions of women living in rural or underserved
areas. For example, the Antenatal Neonatal Guidelines, Education, and Learning System (ANGELS) network, based at the University of Arkansas, connects family practitioners and patients with maternal, fetal, and neonatal medicine
specialists they may not have had access to otherwise. By building a bridge to share information and resources, technologies such as telemedicine, HIT, and
EHR enhance the ability of health systems to provide timely, quality, and comprehensive health care.
This month, we should pause to celebrate the progress made without losing sight of the work that needs to continue. We must continue reaching for full
participation in programs offered by the HITECH Act to make the most of existing health information technology. We must also push for full implementation
of the ACA. For example, expanding Medicaid eligibility requirements is critical for improving access to quality care, but it’s optional. A state can
choose whether or not to make changes that would allow more low-income people to enroll in the Medicaid program. Almost half of states - many of
which are home to large populations of people of color, people with lower incomes, and people living in rural areas - have not taken any action to
implement Medicaid expansion. These states must expand their Medicaid eligibility requirements as soon as possible so that their residents can start
benefitting from high quality health care. It’s working for millions of people right now, and it can work for millions more.
As a part of National Minority Health Month’s Workforce Week,
the HHS Office of Minority Health is launching an e-learning program entitled,
Cultural Competency Program for
Oral Health Professionals. This free program, offered exclusively online,
is designed to help oral health professionals build knowledge and skills related to cultural and
The program targets Dentists, Dental
Assistants, Dental Hygienists, Dental Specialists, and any other professional in the unique position to help
improve access to quality oral health care, and to help improve oral health outcomes of all patients. The
Cultural Competency Program for
Oral Health Professionals is a 3-course, ADA CERP Recognized e-learning program that will offer eligible oral health professionals the opportunity to gain up to 6 continuing education credits at no cost to them.
The Cultural Competency Program for Oral Health Professionals will equip participants with the awareness and skills necessary to provide culturally and linguistically appropriate services to all patients. The HHS Office of Minority Health has strived to produce a creative and practical program, based on expert and target user feedback, which will help oral health professionals deliver a higher quality of care for all of their patients.
In addition, the e-learning program is designed to equip oral health professionals with the basic cultural and linguistic competency knowledge and skills so that they can:
For more information or to access the program, please visit: oralhealth.thinkculturalhealth.hhs.gov.
For more information on delivering culturally and linguistically appropriate services in other health professions visit: www.ThinkCulturalHealth.hhs.gov.
In April, we commemorate National Minority Health Month to raise awareness about the health disparities that disproportionately impact racial and ethnic
minorities, and to highlight prevention as a key strategy for achieving health equity.
Over the past several decades, our nation has made vast improvements in scientific knowledge, public health and health care. And yet, the health status of
racial and ethnic minorities still lags behind that of the general population on many fronts. Minorities are far more likely to suffer from chronic
conditions and diseases, like diabetes, cancer and high blood pressure. But we know the power that prevention holds for communities of color and for our
nation as a whole.
Today, we have the opportunity to make unprecedented progress towards closing the gap in health care services and health outcomes for all Americans. The
Office of Minority Health is leading the implementation of the first-ever U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Action Plan to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities, and
coordinating the implementation of a national cross-sector, partnership-based, multi-level, and community-driven effort to address health disparities - the National Partnership for Action to End Health Disparities (NPA). Guided by the HHS Disparities Action
Plan, the Department promotes integrated approaches, evidence-based programs and promising practices to reduce disparities and advance health equity,
including community-based prevention programs, promoting the uptake of preventive services and prioritizing healthy living.
Our efforts are empowered by the knowledge that prevention will help change the current trends that result in minorities too often living sicker and dying
younger. Prevention reduces health disparities through focusing on the action we all must take to achieve health equity — an understanding this
Administration has had since the beginning of its efforts to transform our health care system. The HHS Disparities Action Plan helps hold us accountable to
this focus, and the NPA’s National Stakeholder Strategy for Achieving Health Equity serves as both documentation of the actions envisioned by communities,
experts, and stakeholders as necessary to effectively combat health disparities, and the commitment required of all, including the public and private
By expanding access to coverage and quality health care through the Affordable Care Act, we can transform health care and public health. Through
educational campaigns like the Million Hearts Initiative to prevent one million heart attacks and
strokes, we advance the health and well-being of the American people as we support activities to improve healthy lifestyles. Through more investment in community health centers – where almost two-thirds of all patients
treated are minorities – and the efforts of those organizations to promote prevention in their communities, we help to strengthen the nation’s health and
human services infrastructure and workforce. Through new tools like
mobile applications to help women of color
gain access to information on cancer screenings and investments in community-based participatory research, we advance scientific knowledge and innovation.
HHS will remain accountable to achieving the goals of the Disparities Action Plan and monitoring progress towards reducing health disparities.
And there is more to come. The Affordable Care Act has opened up the doors to health coverage for millions of Americans. The health care law specifically
addresses the needs of minority populations and other underserved groups – who are more likely to be without health insurance or a regular primary care
provider – by investing in prevention, and making health care coverage affordable and accessible. Tens of millions of previously insured Americans have had
their private coverage strengthened and millions of previously uninsured Americans are newly covered with the opportunity to access important preventive
services, like check-ups, screenings and vaccinations, without the worry of co-pays or other cost-sharing.
Throughout the month of April, the Office of Minority Health will join its federal, state, tribal and local partners across the country in calling for a
renewed commitment to eliminate health disparities and achieve health equity. Across the country and in the U.S. territories, we are spreading the word
that “prevention is power,” to inspire everyone to talk about how we can focus on keeping our families and communities healthy. We invite you to join us
during National Minority Health Month in taking action for health equity. Share your work with us, and help us continue to build momentum to achieve our
goal of a nation free of disparities in health and health care.