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Keynote conversation from Top of Mind Online focuses on need to address health disparities, value, innovation, and more

Health systems’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t been the only challenge in 2020.

The pandemic highlighted longstanding health and economic disparities in communities across the country.

“There is no doubt that we have seen a hammering both of the economy because of the pandemic and the related impact on disparities in the country, which amplified the gaps in between rich and poor; and they’re amplified by race,” Ian Morrison, PhD, a health care futurist and author, said during a keynote fireside chat at the Top of Mind Online virtual summit.

Dr. Morrison spoke with UPMC Health Plan President and CEO Diane Holder for fireside, “The Future of the Health Care Marketplace.” It was one of six sessions from the virtual summit, which was organized by the Center for Connected Medicine (CCM).

The working poor also were more likely to be infected by COVID-19 because they were unable to work from home and traveled by public transit. Many have inadequate access to health care services or insurance, and there is also a greater prevalence of comorbid and preexisting conditions in communities of color, which can lead to more severe COVID illness.

“All of those I think, contributed both to the spread and the severity of the impact of the pandemic on communities of color in particular,” Dr. Morrison said.

Telehealth’s benefit on access not evenly distributed

Holder added that the disparities in race extended to the use of technology in accessing health services during the pandemic. While the rise of telehealth during the pandemic has been lauded for improving access to health care, Holder pointed out that not all communities used telehealth.

“We saw telehealth go right through the roof so quickly. Unfortunately, we still saw some health equity problems in telehealth. I know in our own populations that we serve here we saw a significant difference in the number of our Black members in our health plan versus our white members that use telehealth,” Holder said.

UPMC Health Plan is bringing the issue of health disparities to the forefront in a podcast, “Better Health, Better World,” which explores the underlying inequities that influence the decisions people can make and lead to life-altering consequences for their health.

Reducing health, economic, and technological disparities by having strategies for boosting technology use across all populations and communities is “the big opportunity, the big promise,” Holder said.

Dr. Morrison agreed. “Certainly, there has been a digital divide that’s been documented by income and race. One of the things we better think about is how do we address that imbalance and that digital divide,” he said.

In addition to health and economic disparities, “The Future of the Health Care Marketplace” covered other vital topics that are top of mind for health leaders across the country.

Holder and Dr. Morrison also discussed the importance of moving the health system toward value-based care, improving data sharing to spur innovation, and the role of technology companies and other non-traditional health care players in the future, among other topics.

Learn more about the CCM’s Top of Mind program

The CCM’s Top of Mind program focuses on telehealth, artificial intelligence and revenue cycle management through a research report, webinar, virtual roundtables, and a virtual summit. Read about all the components of the program that seeks to examine innovation and digital health priorities in the year ahead.

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