Michigan Association of Health Plans

How does internet access impact our health?

This story appeared in Priority Health’s ThinkHealth Blog. Read more here

Annual physical exams, regular dental cleanings and yearly vision checks are essential to staying healthy. Yet, studies show up to 60% of health outcomes are determined by factors outside of the doctor’s office, including internet access.
Internet access, or the lack of it, can have a significant impact on reaching optimal health and wellness.

Defined by the World Health Organization as “the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age,” social determinants of health are environmental and societal factors that impact physical and mental health. Social determinants of health include:

  • Education access and quality
  • Neighborhood and physical environment
  • Economic stability
  • Community and social context
  • Health care access and quality

These factors are closely interconnected and can contribute to inequities in health care. One important resource that is linked to whether a person can reach optimal health is access to broadband internet.

If you have high-speed internet access, appropriate technology, and digital literacy, you can easily log on to a portal and schedule a follow-up appointment with your doctor to discuss issues like diabetes management or hypertension.

Or, if you wake up with a sore throat and cough but don’t want to wait at urgent care for a non-emergency issue, you can use a phone or laptop to video conference with a licensed medical professional.

By using virtual care, patients can get a diagnosis and prescription without having to leave home or significantly interrupt a work day.

However, those without easy access face many hidden barriers. For some, accessing virtual care may mean taking a bus and then walking a few miles to utilize Wi-Fi at the public library while also trying to balance a work schedule and caring for family members.

A lack of access to high-speed internet has been coined the “super determinant of health,” by some population health experts. This shines a light on another disparity in America revealed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many organizations across the country and here in Michigan are collaborating to help close this gap.

To address health inequity, the economic and environmental factors should also be considered, including internet accessibility and how the lack of it leads to poorer health. The city of Detroit has a 30 percent poverty rate, and affordability is a barrier to owning technology and affects those budgeting monthly living expenses. A lack of digital literacy also affects those who don’t understand how to use the internet for simple tasks, like paying bills, accessing health plan benefits, or safely browsing the web.

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