In Brief: COVID-19 and Health Equity

a woman on a computer

Two papers from Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian investigators make recommendations on addressing health disparities related to COVID-19 and broader social factors that impact patient health.

Disparities in Broadband Internet Access Highlighted by COVID-19 a Public Health Issue

Disparities in access to reliable broadband internet during the COVID-19 pandemic reflect a broader public health issue, according to an editorial published Aug. 1 in the American Journal of Public Health. Social distancing requirements during the pandemic have made access to reliable internet even more valuable than it previously was. Such access has been critical to health-promoting activities including telehealth visits; job searching and filing for unemployment; online education; social interaction — such as religious events, family gatherings and support groups; exercise classes; and access to reliable and credible information. But certain groups like the elderly, people of color, those with less education, and those who live in rural areas, have historically had less reliable access to broadband technology. For instance, one-fourth of Americans do not have the broadband access and devices needed to do video visits with their healthcare providers.

The authors say efforts to broaden access should expand, citing a Comcast package that gives reduced prices to low-income households, and the company's decision to increase broadband speeds during the pandemic. The authors also recommend funding efforts modeled on the federal government’s 2009 Broadband Technology Opportunities Program, which invested $4 billion in over 200 local programs combining broadband access with community outreach, technology training and low-cost devices, but which has received no new funding.

Corresponding authors: Dr. Jessica Ancker  and Dr. Natalie Benda


How to Promote Equitable Healthcare for Cancer Patients During COVID-19 and Beyond

In a May 19 statement, the Society of Gynecologic Oncology outlines strategies to address health disparities that have been exacerbated by COVID-19, related to race, income, age and sexual orientation. The authors call on physicians and healthcare systems to research and develop approaches to addressing social determinants of health—factors like housing, community violence, transportation, food access and inequities in healthcare that contribute to disparate health outcomes. Healthcare organizations should acknowledge the historical structures that put people of color and underserved communities at risk and advocate for policies that increase access to quality healthcare, including insurance coverage, according to the authors. Gynecologic oncology practitioners should have “frank conversations” with patients about COVID-19 symptoms and their financial concerns, home environments, access to care, and food and housing, and be aware of their own implicit biases. Collaboration is also necessary to provide needed resources to patients during the ongoing pandemic, and to ensure equity in treatment and health outcomes of cancer. Individual physicians and healthcare organizations should work with colleagues in social work, patient advocacy groups and community organizations, which are well positioned to help lead efforts for health equity. 

Corresponding author: Dr. Eloise Chapman-Davis

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