LISTA, HTTP and our members often discuss the transformative potential of technology. We promote technology, innovation and broadband connectivity because it empowers communities, reveals new possibilities, and changes lives. But technology can also improve health, quality of care – and save lives while saving the health care system dollars. Health IT has had a dramatic impact on patient care and telemedicine, with endless future possibilities.
That’s why the National Latino Alliance on Health Information Technology (Latino HIT), an initiative of LISTA that focuses on advancing health care delivery to Latino communities, kicked off our “EHR Insights 2015: Latinos and HealthCare Information Technology”, a conference discussing ideas and applications of health IT, along with HTTP last week. Our conference encouraged the implementation of health IT and electronic medical records in the primary care physician’s practice, paving the way for additional exciting health care technologies and increased adoption of mobile health (mHealth) and telemedicine that in turn will help address health disparities in the Latino community.
Yes, the digital revolution has the potential to improve Latino health. It must be stated that with roughly 50.5 million Hispanics living in the United States and representing 16 percent of the U.S. total population, Latino health and the disparities we face have national implications. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and stroke are some of the leading causes of illness and death among Hispanics. As of 2006 CDC data, Latinos were 1.5% more likely to die from diabetes than the general population.
The leading cause of death for Latinos is heart disease. One of the most critical contributing factors to heart disease is hypertension (or high blood pressure), which can be related to obesity. The CDC notes that Latinos are less likely than non‐Hispanic whites to effectively manage their hypertension and pursue preventive care. Latinas, particularly, have high levels of hypertension and are more likely to have heart complications as a result.
Communities who struggle the most with life-challenging diseases and illnesses could greatly benefit from new health IT applications that include remote health monitoring and remote medical consultations – opportunities to allow patients to participate in their own healthcare, communicate more regularly with medical professionals regardless of location, and see a more cost-efficient and convenient form of care. But the healthcare innovations that can deliver treatment, care, and expertise in new ways depend on the availability of a robust network infrastructure, including the ubiquitous deployment of high-speed wireless broadband.
The increased demand and use of wireless devices has created a “spectrum crunch” that threatens the long-term evolution of these life-saving innovations. This increased strain on capacity not only affects customer experience and causes dropped calls and slow data speeds, prompting the need for additional spectrum. Health IT applications run on these same airwaves. In order to fully realize the benefits and exciting potential of health IT, additional spectrum is needed, STAT.
Luckily, spectrum reform has happened: Congress recently passed legislation that will make underutilized spectrum available at auction, where carriers can bid for the rights to use it to expand their wireless broadband networks. Swift action to move new swaths of spectrum to use will power continued innovation and investment in the space, and create new applications that could save lives. As Peter Rysavy notes in his piece, repurposing high-quality spectrum across the bands, and investment in the new capacity it allows, will be needed to advance the deployment of valuable, high-capacity networks.
The spectrum issue is a dense, obscure subject to communicate, even to our most tech-savvy stakeholder. But the bottom line is that Congress’ and the FCC’s role in moving spectrum quickly to advance wireless network capacity is of incredible value to all communities. In the health IT space, technology will drive new ways to address health disparities, drive efficiency, and save money – all of which stands to benefit Latino communities. But only with the continued evolution of 21st century broadband networks – both wire line, and high capacity wireless.
Jose Marquez-Leon is President and CEO of Latinos in Information Sciences and Technology Association (LISTA), @lista1 which created the National Latino Alliance on Health Information Technology. @latinohealthit
Jason A. Llorenz, Esq. is Executive Director, the Hispanic Technology and Telecommunications Partnership (HTTP). Follow on Twitter: @hispanicttp.