June 4, 2020in Virtual Care

COVID-19 and the Opportunity to Improve Health Equity

As COVID-19 and the recent Black Lives Matter protests have swept across the United States and the world, the issue of inequality has been brought into sharp focus.

This hits close to home for all of us at HealthTap because it’s related to an issue we’ve been focused on for a long time—health equity.

It’s not news that health care can be difficult to access for people of color or people who earn less money. But the problem goes beyond cost. Accessibility is a major hurdle that people struggle to clear. The logistics of visiting a doctor can be so complicated or frustrating that a lot of people give up or don’t even try in the first place.

But we believe there’s hope.

One of the rays of light that shone through in the early days of COVID lockdowns was that telemedicine came into wide use almost overnight. That simple change—if we keep it in place—could be a game-changer in the fight to create greater health equity for everyone.

I talked about why during a recent panel discussion with Micron Technology’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion group. Here are some of the big takeaways from that talk.

Remote care can work—and that’s not all

HealthTap has seen this play out in real-time. Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, our service has played a key role—allowing people to see their doctor while also social-distancing.

Our doctors have even donated their time so that anyone experiencing COVID symptoms can get a free visit.

We believe this type of care is here to stay. Doctors commonly are highly effective in addressing medical issues in conversations alone without the need for physical examination or procedures. Why schedule an in-person visit when an initial consult over the internet will do just fine?

But we shouldn’t stop at healthcare.

Wide acceptance of distance learning could mean more people achieve greater education—a major factor in overall health.

Similarly, the ability to work remotely could open up higher-paying jobs to a wider swath of people and offer them better healthcare choices.

That could be huge when you consider this next point.

Visiting a doctor costs time and money that not everyone has

Many of us take the act of physically going to the doctor for granted. Something hurts, or it’s not getting better, so you set up an appointment and go.

It’s not always that simple. Consider what it’s like for people who:

  • can’t take the time off from work
  • are caregivers for family members who can’t be left at home alone
  • live in rural areas and have to travel a long way to the nearest doctor
  • have to decide between seeing a doctor or paying for groceries

These are common challenges. And nearly all of them could be solved with access to telemedicine.

Think about how important that could be. A person who is putting off care right now could do an initial consult over the phone to achieve peace of mind that their symptoms are minor. Or they could learn their condition shouldn’t be ignored, and they could pursue treatment that prevents serious problems in the future.

As for the issue of cost, HealthTap charges $120 annually—or $10 per month. And we offer your first visit for those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic for free.

There’s one more key role remote care can play in greater health equity.

Greater healthcare access means more options for everyone

Imagine that you’re on vacation in a foreign country and suddenly need to see a doctor. What kinds of barriers might there be that prevent you from getting the best care?

It could be something obvious—maybe you and the doctor don’t speak the same language.

Or something more subtle—for example, cultural differences that lead to a lack of understanding about your lifestyle or needs.

Sadly, this is the American healthcare experience for many minorities and people of color.

The type of customization I’m talking about that would solve these problems isn’t available yet. We need more data and better representation at all levels of the healthcare system.

But it’s the kind of thing that COVID-19 is opening our eyes to. And now that it’s in the open, we can act to improve health equity in the future.

Everyone deserves the best healthcare possible

Since its founding in 2010, HealthTap has been dedicated to expanding healthcare access. It’s right there in our mission:

to give real-time access to high-quality, affordable healthcare to all.

So you can see why health equity is such an important issue for us. It needs to be important to everyone. Because as the COVID-19 crisis has shown, personal health is community health.

Let’s make sure access to that is available to everybody.

Sean Mehra

Sean Mehra

Sean Mehra is HealthTap’s co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer, dedicated to enabling simple, affordable access to quality healthcare for all.