Disparities in Healthcare IT Adoption

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Many healthcare system developers are preparing for consumer-focused health IT software to support telehealth and other forms of virtual care in conjunction with their existing electronic health record systems. Researchers examining the issue agree that healthcare is evolving, but report that plans for dealing with the disruption caused by digitalization are inconsistent and therefore unable to fully address disparities in healthcare IT adoption.
With the findings of a study recently published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR), Jiban Khuntia and colleagues at the University of Colorado Denver (UC Denver) Business School offer some clues for decision-makers. They disseminated a survey to health system chief executive officers across the United States between February to March 2021. Of the 625 CEOs queried, 135 (22%) responded.

Disparities in Healthcare IT Adoption

The study’s authors were able to identify some of the more serious gaps in telehealth adoption of health IT in the United States. The researchers identified four digital orientations used by the health systems examined:

  • Analytics-oriented digital technologies (AODT)
  • Customer-oriented digital technologies (CODT)
  • Growth and innovation-oriented digital technologies (GODT)
  • Futuristic and experimental digital technologies (FEDT)   

The first two dimensions identified above are considered foundational to health systems’ telehealth development, whereas the latter two are seen as preparing for future disruptions. While the vast majority of health systems have the foundational digital technological capacity to serve patients, comparatively fewer health systems have growth or futuristic digital orientations. The data showed the lowest level of FEDT orientation with these nuances:

  • Medium-sized health systems, major teaching health systems, and systems with high-burden hospitals seem to be hampered with respect to AODT orientations, raising some concerns.
  • Health systems of medium and large sizes, major teaching health systems, those with high revenue, and systems with high-burden hospitals have less CODT orientation.
  • Health systems geographically located in the midwest and southern states are more likely to adopt GODT
  • High-revenue and investor-owned health systems are deterred from GODT.
  • Medium-sized health systems and those located in the midwest, south, and west are more oriented to FEDT
  • Medium and high-revenue health systems and those with a high discharge rate or high burden have subdued FEDT orientations.

Way Forward: Addressing Disparities in Healthcare IT Adoption

The JMIR study authors recommend that a national policy be developed to support widespread health IT adoption and digital health transformation for healthcare planning moving forward. They also encourage stakeholders to devise a national strategy backed by financial incentives to implement successful health IT orientations. Health IT deployment must be equal and universal for the national digital health transformation to succeed. Therefore, only a well-thought-out national framework can help healthcare systems reap the value of digitization. An absence of uniformity in health systems in the United States would further exacerbate the current state of disparities in health care. A holistic approach to public policy is the only way to ensure equal access for patients throughout the country. 

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