Why is equity in health care important and how technology can bridge the gap?

Laszlo Svinger, MD 3M Middle East

What is equity in health care and why is it important?
The World Health Organization defines equity in health care as the ability of all people, regardless of sex, gender, ethnicity, disability, or religion, to reach their full potential for health and well-being. In other words, an equitable health system ensures the absence of unfair, avoidable or remediable differences between groups of people. Unfortunately, globally we are far from achieving equity in health care, and marginalized and underrepresented communities are often underserved. It is no wonder then that achieving health and well-being for all is number three of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals.

What are the unique features of health care equity in the MENA region?
In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, health care inequalities often occur across gender lines due to institutional and cultural biases. And regional research proves the point. Based on World Economic Forum 2022 Global Gender gap report, which measures economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment, MENA has the second highest gender gap globally after only South Asia at 36.6 percent .

While there are many complex reasons why health care inequality persists, we must come together to address them. The immediate action we can take is to make efficient use of the advanced technologies available to ensure greater fairness across the sector.

How can advanced technology support greater equity in health care?
Covid put enormous pressure on health systems, leading to interruptions in the treatment of communicable and non-communicable diseases. One of the most significant innovations in health care that we have technology to thank for is telemedicine. The expansion of telemedicine and digital prescription services has allowed patients to continue receiving non-urgent care without the need to visit a medical center in person. This has been instrumental in reducing the risk of coronavirus for patients, especially those with chronic illnesses, while ensuring continued accessibility. Telemedicine also has huge implications for remote communities, where getting physical access to a medical facility can often be a burden.

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Another revolution in health care is access to big data and analytics. Health information systems (HIS) are key to the transformation of healthcare, improving efficiency, increasing productivity and reducing costs. Most critical to equity, however, is that more data can help identify people at risk for disease, tailor treatments, and ultimately improve patient outcomes. For example, our Social Determinants of Health Analytics platform enables healthcare providers and payers to prioritize care and allocate resources for high-risk individuals and patient populations. HIS software brings together clinical, social, and population health data to enable private and public health stakeholders to view a comprehensive, holistic picture of patient health. This is vitally important to be able to identify those who are at higher risk of disease.

Understanding societal risk factors is part of the journey to preventive health care: if we know who is at risk for what and why, we can create targeted early interventions. If we can understand who is most at risk and where, we can learn how to apply specific therapeutic interventions, such as the ‘3M-052’ vaccine adjuvant developed by 3M for Covid patients. It strengthens the immune response and improves the efficacy of the vaccines that are being developed. It opens up new possibilities for prevention and intervention where they are most needed.

Advanced technology is opening up a new world of possibilities in healthcare and due to the Covid pandemic, today we are seeing the push towards digital transformation across the industry. We are also seeing vital public support for the health care opportunities brought about by new technologies. In the United Arab Emirates, for example, our report indicated that 43% of people in the UAE expect the use of AI, data analytics, and digital health records to track and improve health outcomes. of patients are among the main advances in health care that science must prioritize. beyond Covid-19 (vs. 33 percent globally).

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What else should the industry do to address equity in health care?
Across the industry, we must do more to ensure equitable representation, which is critical to equitable outcomes. And for the medical sector, that means getting more women and underrepresented minorities into STEM soon. We have committed to investing $50 million to address opportunity gaps and STEM education initiatives. In doing so, we hope to advance economic equity by creating five million unique STEM and skilled trades learning experiences for underrepresented people by the end of 2025.

And finally, we must emphasize the importance of collaboration across the industry to ensure greater fairness. With new technologies and an evolving healthcare landscape, collaboration is essential to bring more equity to healthcare, whether it’s working together to implement new digital health record systems to ensure greater representation of minorities across the sector.

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