Concerned that food stamp users lacked the opportunity to buy fresh vegetables, the anti-hunger group Just Harvest decided two years ago to take credit card machines to local farmers markets that were operating on a cash basis. Besides credit and debit cards, the machines accept the state-issued Electronic Benefit Transfer cards holding food stamps.
“As people find out about it, it’s becoming more and more popular,” said Just Harvest executive director Ken Regal, noting EBT card purchases are up 40 percent from last year. In ways big and small, technology is being deployed to reduce health disparities — some groups’ lack of access to health care or healthy lifestyle options or their overrepresentation in disease or death rates.
“But technology is a double-edged sword. As is the case with fertility treatments, which only the affluent can afford, and telemedicine, the availability of which varies, technology can promote unequal access to care.
“While some progress has been made in recent years, many problems remain, according to the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, which noted that disparities exist along racial, geographic and socioeconomic lines. For example, the report noted that patients on Medicaid had greater difficulties accessing care than those with private insurance and that quality of health care and the extent of disparities varied by region.
“The Consumer Partnership for eHealth, led by the National Partnership for Women & Families, has pushed for minimum standards in electronic health records to ensure they collect enough information on patient ethnicity and other factors to inform care. It’s also demanded that records be made available to patients in multilingual formats that explain jargon in layman’s terms, said Mark Savage, the director of health information technology policy and programs.
Teaching physicians to think about disparities is as important as implementing technology that can help address them. “They go hand in glove,” said Susan Skochelak, the American Medical Association’s vice president for medical education.
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