It began as an analysis of patient census trends following the pandemic, but it quickly took Kevin Shimamoto and his team in a new direction.
“We started to see some inequities with a large number of families not using the patient portal,” says Shimamoto, vice president and advisor to the chief information officer at Valley Children's Healthcare in Madera, California. “We found they didn't know how to download the program or how the portal works, which were major issues.”
Only about a third of the hospital’s families utilize its patient portal, while other areas of the U.S. see adoption rates north of 80%, Shimamoto says. This was only one of many technology concerns the hospital ended up uncovering after a full community needs assessment. The San Joaquin Valley has a sizeable immigrant population with high poverty and low educational attainment. In addition to patient portal access, there was a need throughout the region for improving digital health literacy and access, which is pivotal to health equity, including medical testing and monitoring via remote devices and telemedicine visits, Shimamoto says.
To address these issues, Valley Children’s founded its Coalition for Digital Health Equity in the summer of 2022 to focus on digital health literacy and internet access for underserved populations. Partnering with several other health care providers, as well as government agencies, insurers and nonprofit organizations, the coalition is working toward achieving digital health equity in three primary areas:
- Digital literacy. Includes mapping existing resources and building a pilot program toward improving educational efforts around technology.
- Broadband access. Assessing internet availability across the region and developing strategies to address gaps in service.
- Policy advocacy. Devising a policy vision and priorities to support the coalition’s work around literacy and broadband access.
Shimamoto says it’s too early to measure results from the coalition’s efforts, but the collaborative is progressing nicely against its goals. Pivotal to advancing its priorities is leveraging resources available in the community.
“What got me started on this was getting out there and asking the questions. People don't know what they don't know until you ask,” Shimamoto says. “But once you ask those questions, it's amazing how many nonprofit groups are out there to help with this mission.”