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No one left behind: turning a utopian view on technology’s impact on health outcomes into reality

Natasha Patel, Managing Consultant; Amy Knapman, Senior Associate Consultant; Sarah Mahmood, Consulting Intern | 1/10/2024

In a world where technology is becoming increasingly integrated into health management, are we leaving people behind? Our consultants explore why driving equal health outcomes takes careful consideration of how we adopt new technologies.

Picture two people, both living with breast cancer. One has access to on-demand virtual consultations and often uses online patient forums for support and advice. They do all this via their smartphone, which long ago ceased to be just a telephone and is now effectively a handheld computer. This patient will take part in market research about breast cancer, for which they will be screened, interviewed, and compensated online. Our second patient cannot afford broadband, and their limited mobile plan means their phone is used only to book in-person appointments. This patient will miss out on the opportunity to take part in the same market research. Their voice will not be heard.

You may be thinking, “Does this really still happen?”. Unfortunately, the answer is yes.

In 2021, the International Telecommunications Union estimated that globally, 2.9 billion people were still considered “offline.” By 2023, around 7% of UK homes—more than 1.5 million—lacked access to the internet, according to the UK communications regulator, Ofcom. Notably, this figure was substantially higher than previous years, reaching 11% in 2020. In the US, 1 in 5 households are offline. Ofcom attributed the reduction in offline households to the COVID-19 pandemic, finding more people were forced to take a “leap of faith” and enter the online world.3 However, their research also highlighted that the digital exclusion cultivated by lockdown was more disempowering than ever, accentuating the gap between those who can become connected and those who cannot.

Like many industries, healthcare adapted during the pandemic. With populations following strict rules to stay at home and avoid close contact, the sector was faced with the monumental task of disseminating information, managing increased demand for healthcare, and rolling out a vaccination program. Technology was used to achieve this, and the common opinion is that digital health is here to stay, with experts concluding, “it is likely that a significant portion of such services will remain telehealth-based post-COVID-19.” But this view ignores reality: for some, the increasing digitization of healthcare has meant permanent disconnection from the services they need most.

Download the article for insights on:

  • The current divide in digital access for patients
  • Why new technology can either widen or close the gap in health outcomes for patients
  • How to ensure a culture of inclusivity, engage external contributors, and leverage technology for inclusion, not exclusion

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