by Ole Ho Christiansen
The right to health is a basic human right that is recognized by almost all global and regional human rights instruments (Majid, 2020). It covers physical, mental and social well-being. It requires that access to health care is non-discriminatory and accessible (Majid, 2020). Therefore, it is concerning to see the current digital divide in basic health care. Currently, according to Statista, only 59.5 percent of the global population use the internet (Statista, 2021). That leaves 40.5 percent of the population on the other side of the divide.
In recent times, health insurance and health care providers have been rapidly adopting digital technology. This new technology has improved patient education, care, and health outcomes (AHIP, 2021). With the introduction of telehealth, patients can even receive health care without ever leaving their house (AHIP, 2021). The online services, such as apps and websites, help make education, information, and even care available asynchronously (AHIP, 2021). These are positive and important developments in the healthcare industry, but they come with critical downsides. They have left out the people who lack digital fluency or reliable connectivity and devices (AHIP, 2021).
The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted just how big the digital divide is. With work and education going online, along with grocery shopping, therapy and more, we saw how many people did not have access. The healthcare industry was no different. They had to minimize in-person visits and therefore telemedicine became the go-to solution (Rafanelli, 2020). This added to the already digital divide and left some citizens without access to basic health care.
“Covid-19 is indeed a significant threat to public health. During such emergencies, when access to information is of critical importance, broad restrictions on access to the Internet cannot be justified on public order or national security grounds. Naturally, placing barriers on the use of the Internet is a violation of international human rights law, and only worsens the threat.” (Majid, 2020).
Virtual care has become part of the new normal, and as such it is now more important than ever to bridge the digital divide (Glaser, et al., 2020). While the pandemic has forced us to change many things, we still have the power to change what comes next (Glaser, et al., 2020). Digital literacy is now crucial and a push for digital inclusion must be made.
Along with healthcare, digital inclusion affects education. Technology plays a huge role in how students learn, and will further down the line affect their adult life in the job market (Foxwell, 2021). If students go through the education system without digital literacy training they will be at a great disadvantage for the rest of their life (Foxwell, 2021). With the current pandemic, students have been spending 230 percent more time on digital learning tools (Yermeche, 2020).
“Among all the technologies that help prepare students for the future, access to the Internet is probably the most important. It’s obviously become the backbone for how individuals, companies, communities, and even the economy function optimally on a day-to-day basis.” (Larmand, 2021).
When students have access to the internet and digital tools, they’re able to practice developing the digital literacy skills. These skills are crucial to effectively analyse and act on discoveries made with various technologies (Larmand, 2021). Digital inclusion ensures that everyone is able to access key learning experiences. Therefore, internet-access, internet-connected devices and digital literacy training is important to students (Larmand, 2021).
“Our reliance on digital tools isn’t going anywhere and this, of course, means that education leaders need to do everything possible to equip students with the skill sets to contribute in a global society.” (Larmand, 2021).
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