Health technology said to reduce care disparity in poor and minorities

By Kyle Hardy
11:06 AM
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Garth Graham, the Department of Health and Human Services' Deputy Assistant Secretary of Minority Health, says the nation can use heath information technology to reduce care disparities in the poor and minority populations.

"Segments of poor rural Americans have a life expectancy of 15-17 years less than wealthy, urban Americans," Graham said during a Wednesday morning keynote speech on Capitol Hill. "Health disparities for minorities are growing as well, but the greatest gap right now is between the rich and the poor."

Graham said the federal government can't be expected to solve the nation's health disparity issues on its own. He said there needs to be a "Team America."

"The fact is that minorities are more likely to look for health information on the Web," he said. "That creates an opportunity for health technologists to reduce health disparities. However, the government can be directive but cannot do it alone."

Rural healthcare providers have a difficult time because of the lack of IT tools that their urban counterparts take for granted, said Graham. The HITECH Act, the HIT portion of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, emphasizes data collection on ethnicity, race and gender in order to better document care disparities. Graham stressed that collecting and analyzing data would be critical to improving the quality of care for minorities and the poor.

"Join in, join something, to improve the lives of all Americans," he urged.

Following his speech, Graham was asked how mobile technology could be used to improve care for patients.

"(Hurricane) Katrina proved there is value in mobile technology when trying to reach the health needs of minorities," he said. "Seventy-five percent of those affected by Katrina had access to a cell phone."

"Understanding the data builds the science," he added. "The science will drive the improvement of public health. Telemedicine should be used everywhere, not just rural areas. It is important and we will see new initiatives probably next month."

Graham spoke during National Health IT Week, a weeklong forum designated for providers, vendors and other health organizations to raise awareness of the importance of health IT.

Scheduled speakers later this week include Reps. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.), Dennis Moore (D-Kan.) and Phil Gingrey, MD (R-Ga.), and Barry P. Chaiken, MD, Health Information and Management Systems Society board chairman.