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Bridging the digital equity gap for Baltimore residents

johnson-ricardo-col-sigWhat do digital equity and health equity have in common? More than you think.

Baltimore City Mayor Brandon Scott committed to hiring a director of digital equity in his first several months in office. The role on the mayor’s executive team will play a critical role in bridging gaps that exist between city residents and technology.

Twenty years ago, the term ‘digital divide’ was coined to mark the gap between countries, communities, households and individuals that lacked access to internet service, computers, cell phones and other digital devices. This divide is often tied to geography, age and varying socio-economic levels.

According to the Abell Foundation, 1 in 3 Baltimore City residents do not have a computer or tablet. And, nearly 40 percent of residents do not have internet or cable at home. Most of these households are low income, which tells us that digital access isn’t the only challenge they are facing.

Is it a surprise that COVID-19 has further exacerbated the digital divide for people who lack internet at home, or have anxiety with or skepticism towards technology?

Unsurprisingly, the individuals who can’t connect digitally also struggle to access to health care as the world embraces and relies on virtual care during the pandemic.

In Baltimore, 60 percent of residents are enrolled in a Medicare or Medicaid plan. These residents are often disproportionately affected by poorer health outcomes because they don’t have a safety net to address social issues like housing, food, income and other factors that play a significant role in their health.

Social determinants

Education and transportation are two critical factors influencing a person’s ability to access and prioritize their health. We don’t often hear technology mentioned as a formally recognized social determinant, yet it currently enables many of the aspects of daily living and social mobility in a virtual environment.

Social determinants of health are not adequately addressed in our current health system. It’s unfortunate that it’s taken a pandemic to spotlight the inequity that exists in our city and our country, but now we need to focus on what’s ahead to make healthcare a more accessible, affordable and quality experience for all people.

Scott’s promise to hire a director of digital equity is an encouraging first step to bridge the digital divide that exists locally.

Healthworx is proud to be a part of a community that understands and is committed to equity. As healthcare moves increasingly to a more virtual environment, more than ever before digital equity will be a driver of health equity. It has a critical role in people’s ability to live a healthy life.

It’s not an impossible feat to bridge the gaps that exist or break down the barriers that stand in people’s way to live a healthy life. But it will take a village to forge a path forward for a healthier future for all people. Kudos to Scott and Baltimore city for making an important investment into the future of city residents.

Ricardo Johnson leads Healthworx.