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Critical Conversations at e-Health 2024

As the official ambassador for the e-Health Conference 2024, one of my roles is to share with you some things that are shaping up in my mind as I countdown to the upcoming conference. I am thrilled to delve into some pivotal topics and sessions that are on my mind. One of my focus areas at the conference is on exploring Digital Equity, the Digital Divide, and the role we can play in making healthcare more equitable.

What Does Digital Equity Mean?

“Digital equity refers to the state where every person and community has the necessary information technology resources to participate in society, democracy, and the economy fully. The term encompasses not only access to devices and the Internet, but also the ability to use and benefit from them effectively.” (Internet Society Foundation)

In the age of digital health, the digital divide has significant implications for health access, especially for rural residents, the homeless, those with mental health and addiction issues, seniors, youth, caregivers, to name a few. How do we ensure these groups remain at the forefront as we expand our digital health footprint?

Learning from the Pandemic

The pandemic highlighted the gaps in our digital health approach. The shift to virtual health models, while necessary, revealed significant accessibility issues. For Deaf and Hard of Hearing (D/HoH) individuals, the lack of design accommodations for interpreters in virtual health platforms exacerbated existing challenges. For the rural and remote populations, who already experience lack of services, were now burdened with figuring out how to get access to the bandwidth and devices to access health care services amidst the closure of already intermittent health services provided in their communities.

Such examples underscore the need for comprehensive, inclusive design and policy-making processes involving people with lived experiences.

The Role of Empathy in Digital Health

The more I think about this, the more it is evident that empathy is going to be one of the ways we can bring true equity into the health system. Empathy is crucial in designing digital health services. As professionals, we must recognize that we represent only a small portion of the patient population. It’s imperative for government bodies and policymakers to understand the impact of their decisions and to inject empathy into their policies to make healthcare more equitable.

Critical Assessment and Call to Action

At the conference, I will critically assess the presented content, focusing on how we can address and eliminate inequities. Our mission must be to ensure equitable access to digital health services for all. I encourage you, my colleagues and partners, to do the same.

My Calls to Action for You

  1. Consider Rural and Vulnerable Populations: How are we ensuring that rural residents, the homeless, those with mental health and addiction issues, seniors, youth, caregivers (and others) are prioritized in our digital health initiatives?
  2. Reflect on Pandemic Lessons: How can we learn from the pandemic to design more accessible and inclusive virtual health models?
  3. Inject Empathy in Design: What steps can we take to ensure empathy is at the core of our digital health service designs and policies?
  4. Critically Assess Content: How can we make digital health more equitable and ensure that our innovations do not inadvertently widen the accessibility gap?
  5. Global and Local Engagement: What are the best practices from around the world that we can adopt to improve our digital health systems?

Global Perspectives and Personal Goals

I’m eager to learn about innovations in digital health from across Canada and the world. I aim to play a more active role in this space and am looking forward to being inspired to take on this call to action to the best of my ability.

I look forward to seeing you at e-Health 2024, where we can engage in discussions that will shape the future of digital health.

Zen Tharani is a leader in the digital health landscape, with over 25 years of extensive experience in management consulting, healthcare innovation, and informatics. As the CEO and Founder of Xenex Consulting Inc. (www.xenexconsulting.com), based in Victoria, Zen has been at the forefront of advancing digital health across Canada and internationally through strategic consultancy, leveraging his deep expertise in Health Information Science and Health Informatics.

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