Technology is Great. But Does it Really Change Health Outcomes for the Better?
As a journalist, I’ve always believed in the power of technology to improve our lives. From smartphones to online shopping, it has become an integral part of our everyday routines. But the question that lingers in my mind is whether all this technology is truly making a positive impact on our health outcomes. Are the benefits of digital services reaching everyone, or are certain populations being left behind?
The Luxury Turned Necessity
There’s no denying that technology has become an essential part of our lives. From communicating with friends and family to ordering our daily essentials, it has made our lives easier and more convenient. We can capture and preserve precious memories with a device that fits in the palm of our hand. But for some, technology is still seen as a luxury rather than a necessity.
Thirteen years ago, when I was a single mother struggling to make ends meet, having the latest smartphone or tablet was simply not a priority. I had to focus on providing for my family’s basic needs – food, shelter, and utilities. While technology was undoubtedly helpful, I couldn’t afford the newest gadgets or an unlimited data plan.
This struggle is still a reality for many Americans today. For those living on a low income, technology is often a luxury they can’t afford. While most of us view internet access, unlimited calling, and texting as necessities, some are forced to prioritize other essential expenses such as rent, food, and healthcare.
Related Fact: More than a quarter of low-income Americans rely solely on their phones for internet access.
Technology vs. Affordability
While technology has undoubtedly improved our lives, it comes at a cost – both financially and emotionally. Buying the cheapest available smartphone can consume more than 30% of the monthly income for about 2.5 billion people worldwide. This expenditure could otherwise be used for housing, food, clothing, or savings.
This pattern is also evident in the United States. Low-income earners spend $150 more per year on their cell phones than they did in 2016, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. The cost of connectivity represents a significant portion of their budget, often exceeding what they spend on electricity and gas. The lowest earners spend four times more on phones than high earners when compared as a proportion of household income.
As a result, millions of individuals who are already struggling financially find themselves trapped in a constant pursuit of connectivity in an increasingly digital world.
Related Fact: The cost of connectivity represents more than half of what low-income households spend on electricity and nearly 80% of what they pay for gas.
Lower Tech Readiness
While some can afford to stay connected, there’s another important factor to consider – tech readiness. Not everyone has the knowledge or understanding of how to use the technology available to them. This phenomenon, known as lower tech readiness, disproportionately affects low-income individuals and older populations.
Pew Research Center data reveals that individuals with lower incomes are more likely to have lower tech readiness compared to those with middle or higher incomes. Older adults, especially those aged 65 and above, also struggle with tech readiness. For them, being “tech-savvy” is not just a cliché; it’s a harsh reality that limits their access to the benefits of technology.
Implications for Health Disparities
The healthcare industry is rapidly adopting digital services as a solution to reach and engage more individuals. Telehealth visits, online medication orders, and preventive care are just a few examples. While this is an admirable shift, it may unintentionally exacerbate health disparities among marginalized communities.
Those who cannot afford or understand the technology required for these new solutions will be left behind. As the industry invests more in refining digital services, the millions of Americans who are financially and technologically marginalized will remain overlooked. Without accessible, low-tech solutions, they will struggle to keep up with the growing trend towards digital healthcare.
Technology has undoubtedly improved our lives in countless ways. But its impact on health outcomes is not as clear-cut. While the digital revolution in healthcare offers immense potential, we must not overlook those who are left behind – the millions who cannot afford the latest gadgets or lack the technological literacy to fully utilize them. It is imperative that we find a balance between digital and low-tech solutions to ensure equitable access to healthcare for all.
Technology is a double-edged sword when it comes to health outcomes. While it holds the promise of transforming healthcare, its benefits are not evenly distributed. We must recognize the financial and technological barriers that many face and work towards inclusive solutions. By leveraging both high-tech and low-tech approaches, we can bridge the gap and ensure that everyone, regardless of income or age, can benefit from the advancements in healthcare technology.