The Role of Technology in Enabling Low-Income Earners Access Quality Healthcare

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Millions of children below five years old die each year, while over a thousand women succumb to preventable pregnancy and childbirth complications every day. According to World Health Organization (WHO), 63% of all yearly deaths are due to non-communicable diseases. If quality healthcare had been more accessible, so many lives could’ve been saved.

Health technologies, which include vaccines, medicines, and medical devices, are imperative components of a quality healthcare system. Medical devices, in particular, help prevent many diseases, as well as aid in diagnoses, treatment, and rehabilitation procedures. However, low-income earners typically don’t have access to health technologies. Not to mention the cost of private health insurance is beyond their budgets.

Healthcare Programs For Low-income Earners

Fortunately, low-income earners can obtain a more affordable health insurance and healthcare plan, Medicare. This is especially beneficial for employees nearing their retirement age, or those suffering from a chronic illness. Medicare is government-funded health insurance offered to adults 65 years old and above, as well as to people with chronic disabilities.

Employees or retirees interested in getting Medicare can choose among the following plans:

  • Part A or hospital insurance — covers emergency care, inpatient care, home healthcare, nursing home care, and hospice care
  • Part B or medical insurance — covers preventive care, such as diagnostics and medical treatments
  • Part C or Medicare Advantage — covers Part A and B services, dental and vision services, and is offered by private insurance providers
  • Part D or prescription drug coverage — an add-on to original Medicare that cuts down your pharmaceutical costs
  • Medigap or Medicare supplemental insurance — another original Medicare add-on that helps cover out-of-pocket healthcare costs related to your plan

Medicare is considerably cheaper than private insurance plans. For example, for a single family, a private plan costs $20,576 per year, while Medicare Part A is free, as long as you’ve paid Medicare tax for 40 quarters. For Part B, the standard monthly premium costs only $148.50, while Part D costs $33.06 on average, provided that you bought it along with other Medicare plans.

Healthcare Technologies That Help Low-income Earners

In Cook County Health and Hospitals System, they use telehealth technology and software called eConsult. It can take a photo of a patient’s physical condition, like a skin tag, for example, and send it to a specialist, in this case, a dermatologist. This enables the dermatologist to assess the skin tag immediately and to determine if the patient needs to book an appointment, buy a prescription drug, or nothing at all.

This technology allowed patients to save time and money while receiving healthcare. Without eConsult, the patient would’ve waited days or weeks before getting the diagnosis for their condition. They might’ve even undergone numerous costly tests.

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Medicaid, a state-funded version of Medicare, allows low-income patients access to health technologies like eConsult. It keeps them from waiting in long lines for a doctor’s appointment, which tends to be the case in public hospitals. But thanks to Medicare and Medicaid, low-income patients can receive fast and convenient services.

Their smartphones can also now serve as healthcare devices. Many healthcare providers offer downloadable apps, which people can use to obtain healthcare services remotely. Since low-income earners typically live far away from the city or are unable to decide when to schedule an appointment, health apps have helped them get consultation anytime. They can use the app to communicate their symptoms with a doctor as soon as they feel them. As a result, their doctors can perform the necessary assessments right away. If an app hadn’t been available, the patient would’ve spent a long period feeling anxious about their health.

There is also numerous evidence that medical devices reduce overall healthcare costs. In a 2010 study, it was found that diagnostic imaging costs (CT scan and MRI scans) were unlikely to be the biggest hospital cost driver. It turned out that every $1 spent on imaging matched up to roughly $3 saved in hospital care costs. Another study also found that states that spend more on quality diagnostic procedures had bigger increases in life expectancy, but not in per capita expenditure. The author of this study hypothesized that newer diagnostic procedures, though costly, had eliminated the need for pricier treatments.

Examples of Innovative Health Technologies

There are other innovative health technologies apart from eConsult. One of them is Vscan, a compact, a portable visualization tool that uses ultrasound technology to examine a patient’s internal organs without being invasive. It is used in low-resource settings such as Tanzania, Ghana, and Bangladesh.

GE’s Lullaby LED Phototherapy (PT) is another example. It is used to treat infants with neonatal jaundice, by simply shining down a specific wavelength of blue light on them. It is an ideal alternative to traditional tube light or compact fluorescent lamps that incur high replacement costs as well as supply chain issues in remote areas.

As health technologies continue to evolve, we can expect more low-income earners to have easier access to the healthcare services they deserve. Coupled with an insurance plan they can afford, there will never be a time when they’d feel resigned over their health again.

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