Nearly one year after the COVID-19 pandemic began, it is apparent that its effects have been disproportionately felt by Black and racialized Canadians. Research shows that Black people are more likely to contract COVID-19 than white people and are dying at higher rates from the virus. This high COVID-19 mortality rate in Black communities is mostly associated with prior poor health conditions resulting from diabetes, hypertension, cancer and heart disease. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, Black Canadians report worse health outcomes in general compared to white Canadians.
These poor health outcomes are linked to pervasive structural and systemic racism and discrimination endured by Black and racialized communities, coupled with their unequal access to health care, quality treatment, adequate health information and other crucial health resources, which in turn intersect with their economic and social status. If these inequalities turn out to be unjust and avoidable, they could lead to substantial health inequities.
Virtual care can help address some of these inequities, particularly through improved access to the health system. By enhancing in-person care with virtual care, we can meet patients where they are at. The delivery of care can be fit into their individual circumstances, rather than the other way around. The increased convenience along with time and cost savings could have significant benefits for vulnerable and marginalized populations in particular, mitigating barriers more likely to affect them.
However, as we turn increasingly towards virtual care, we need to ensure that our health system delivers it as standard care rather than as privileged care, so the system does not continue to perpetuate existing health inequities. This means bridging the “digital divide” by ensuring that all Canadians have access to digital health tools and services. It also means that when patients do access the health system, they’re supported by robust digital health literacy programs.
In order to accurately assess areas of need, and to measure performance and progress, we need to ensure that we are capturing the right data. As starting points, the COVID-19 pandemic has renewed interest in collecting race-based data, and in developing toolkits to measure health inequalities. A new analysis by Canada Health Infoway, set for publication later this year, further examines access to digital health tools among a variety of marginalized populations.
With the right information and education, we can work together to ensure that no one is excluded from our health system, and that we can address the challenges of the many diverse populations within Canada.
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Katie Bryski serves as Content Administrator for Canada Health Infoway. With nearly ten years of podcasting experience, she also produces Infoway’s podcast, the Digital Health InfoCast. She is particularly interested in how digital health relates to intersectionality.
Waldo holds a master’s degree in Applied Economics. He currently serves as Analyst, Performance Analytics at Canada Health Infoway. He has experience in applied social research and quantitative research methods for over 10 years. He has led and contributed to several quantitative surveys, research and impact evaluations aiming at investigating the impact of government-led or funded interventions on health outcomes.