Shrinking the Digital Divide to Improve Health

An article titled “Health education and the digital divide: building bridges and filling chasms” argues that “lack of access to information technology can have profound negative implications for one’s economic, social and physical health and well-being,” and I agree with this point. They believe that ICTs have the capability to improve health outcomes for the world because ICTs allow people to access health information. Today, many people in the world get their health information from ICTs: they seek out information on the internet, or are sent health information by organizations/ services they subscribe to via email or SMS messaging. People often use this information that they find online to make educated decisions about their health care. The ideas presented in this article are consistent with what I have learned in my Public Health and International Development classes at Tulane.

This article opens up a conversation about how beneficial ICTs, especially access to the internet, could be for developing countries. Since many citizens of developing countries often do not have the resources to visit a doctor whenever they want to, it would be extraordinarily helpful for them to be able to receive or search for health information online to determine whether the symptoms they are experiencing are worrisome or not, so they can decide whether to access health services or not. Working to extend the internet and mobiles to under-served communities will give the poor an opportunity to improve their health. Failure to address the digital divide and get ICTs to the citizens in developing countries and under-served in developed countries will widen health disparities between the developed and developing world.

Although internet access for all is the desired goal to shrink the digital divide and improve health according to the article above, many organizations and countries are taking steps in the right direction by starting initiatives to provide health information to under-served communities via SMS text messaging on mobile phones. This idea has proved to be a great alternative for communities that have no access to the internet. For example, the World Health Organization came up with the “M-check project” which is a system designed to decrease maternal and infant mortality in developing countries. Essentially, when a pregnant woman accesses a health center her phone is registered with the “M-check project” and she is sent SMS messages containing ‘safety checklists’. These checklists include danger signs for mothers look out for in themselves and their infants in the week or two after delivery. The system also sends daily reminders to the mothers to check their safety lists. There is also a feature that allows women to call the ‘M-check’ info system, where they are connected with help to work through any questions or concerns that they have, and they can also be connected to an ambulance and taken to a local health service if necessary. This system is using ICTs to change the way that mothers are able to promote and protect their health. This project is contributing to the closure of the digital divide and health disparities by allowing people in need to access health information via ICTs. Clearly, even relatively simple ICTs can improve health outcomes for the developing world.


2 responses to “Shrinking the Digital Divide to Improve Health

  • elladove

    While I agree that ICTs are a vital aspect of increasing global health, what risk does providing internet access as an outlet for self diagnosis pose to higher rates of misdiagnosis or over diagnosis. For example, after doing some independent research of symptons, a patient may go to a doctor and exagerate symptoms, leading to mistreatment of their case. Obviously, ICTs are neccesarily, but how will we keep this issue in check?

  • ddipietro216

    I think that what you are saying is completely valid and probably has already become a big problem in the US, but I am referring to developing countries and extremely poor people; like a person can only afford to make one or two trips to the doctor per year and needs to decide if the symptoms they are experiencing are serious enough that they need to use their time and resources to go to the doctor (based on the health information they would have access to through ICTs). In addition, being able to research home remedies would be beneficial to many people that cannot afford or make it to the doctor.

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