Digital health technologies could remedy health care disparities for Black men
The Black Lives Matter movement continues to shed a light on the racial inequities that exist for Black Americans in every industry, organization and institution. Health education researcher Dr. Ledric Sherman said the health care industry is no different, and has work to do in the area of eliminating health disparities for Black men.
“The health disparities that describe the population health outcomes for Black men in the United States have garnered much attention, and yet the story remains the same,” Sherman said. “Consequently, many Black men avoid primary health care and therefore do not benefit from the preventive care services offered.”
False assumptions, stereotypes and abuse are just a few of the wide-ranging issues that contribute to disparities in life expectancy, escalated disease morbidity and increased mortality for Black men.
“The impact of racism, whether actual or perceived, is tangible to many Black men when considering risks and benefits of seeking health care,” Sherman said.
Sherman, an assistant professor in the Department of Health and Kinesiology, suggests digital health solutions could be key. Sherman, along with co-author Dr. Stuart Grande, MPH from the University of Minnesota, proposes the strategy that mobile health, or mHealth/eHealth, can guide meaningful interactions between clinicians and Black men.
Digital health technologies are mobile digital devices and apps, including websites and social media platforms, which offer immediate access to medical and health information on the internet. They also offer insightful monitoring, measuring and data visualization that helps both the patient and doctor.
mHealth is the application of wireless technology to promote wellness and information sharing between health care and individuals. It has been rapidly gaining attention in both preventive medicine and chronic illness management.
“Previous research has documented the high prevalence of smartphone usage among Black and Hispanic populations and indicated the value of mHealth in managing chronic illness,” Sherman said.
Sherman hopes the accessibility of digital health technologies can begin to bridge the gap between Black male patients and health care providers. He said the task of building better clinical relationships may seem daunting, but is worth it if it means that Black men will get the care they need to live healthier and longer lives.
On average, Black male life expectancy is 72 years of age. This is four years less than white men, six years less than Black women and nine years less than white women.
“Enhancing the quality of health among Black men requires awareness, ambition and effort on their part; conscientiousness and creativity among physicians, nurse practitioners and other clinicians; and system-wide changes within the medical establishment,” Sherman said.
Sherman’s main research area is diabetes self-management. He said digital health technologies show a promising future for diabetes self-management, and possibly amputation prevention.
“Some developments include prevention of illness complications such as diabetic neuropathy, and others, like prototype socks and shoes with thermal and pressure sensors, can identify areas of the feet with insufficient blood supply,” Sherman said. “Potentially, a physician could use this type of technology to routinely inspect minor tissue damage and greatly minimize the risk of amputations.”
Other promising technologies are wrist and hip accelerometers, GPS, mobile technology apps for weight loss, apps for dietary self-monitoring, internet weight loss programs and behavioral intervention technologies.
Sherman hopes to debunk the myth that Black men are members of hard-to-reach populations with little history of participating in health research. He said when researchers make an effort to engage Black men in meaningful ways, the evidence is strong that positive behavior change is not only possible, but dynamic.
“What is needed are interventions that show promise across other racial/ethnic groups, based on co-design strategies that prove to engage and empower Black men to make healthy choices around the management of their chronic illness,” Sherman said. “I strongly believe that if designed properly, these technologies offer needed ways to more fully connect communities to health care resources and professionals.”
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