Reducing health inequalities in the UK with Shared Care Records
14 September 2023
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, more people than ever are using online services and digital tools to access healthcare. This could be anything from booking appointments with local GPs to video calls for online consultations.
As well as offering more direct access to services to people who may not be able to leave home easily, there is also a huge opportunity for technology to help ease health disparities and improve health equity.
Graphnet’s CareCentric platform is designed to help deliver joined-up health and social care services, as part of the online health revolution. It combines data from multiple health and social care sources into a single Shared Care Record, allowing clinicians to segment and target the individuals and communities who require additional support.
This article looks at how electronic healthcare records and other digital tools can help reduce health inequalities and ensure everyone receives the appropriate care and support they need, no matter their situation.
What are health inequalities?
Health inequalities are unfair and often avoidable differences in health across the population and between different groups in society. These may include differences in life expectancy, the health conditions they experience and the care resources easily available and accessible to them.
Some groups and communities are more likely to experience health inequity than others, based on social, economic and demographic differences, as well as other environmental factors.
Examples of health inequity in the UK
- Life expectancy: There is a 19.3 year gap in healthy life expectancy between women living in the the most affluent and the most deprived areas in England.
- Critial illnesses: People from deprived communities are more likely to get cancer, receive a late diagnosis, and to die from the disease.
- Childbirth: Black and Asian women are more likely to die in childbirth than white women.
- General illnesses: Research suggests that incidences of high blood pressure within the most deprived communities is roughly double that of the most affluent areas and people living in the most deprived areas are nearly twice as likely to have a stroke.
Who is affected by health inequalities?
The NHS has outlined the cohorts most at risk of health inequalities as part of an initiative called Core20PLUS5. The Core 20 are the 20% most socially economically deprived communities across the UK, as identified by the Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD).
PLUS communities who experience health inequity based on specific personal circumstances. This includes:
- Ethnic minority communities
- People with learning disabilities and/or neurodivergence
- People with physical disabilities and/or multiple long-term health conditions
- Groups that share protected characteristics as defined by the Equality Act 2010
- Coastal communities (where there may be small areas of high deprivation hidden amongst relative affluence)
- ‘Inclusion health’ groups experiencing social exclusion, including but not limited to:
- People experiencing homelessness
- People with drug and alcohol dependence
- Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities
- Vulnerable migrants
- Victims of modern slavery
As well as experiencing health disparities, all these groups are more likely to have challenges accessing care when they need to.
The reasons for this are complex and may include fear, misinformation, negative previous experiences, as well as more practical reasons such as not being able to afford transport or childcare, or shift patterns clashing with service opening times.
The challenge of digital exclusion
The COVID-19 pandemic has completely changed how many people access health services. More and more, people are turning to digital tools and technology to research symptoms, seek help, book appointments and monitor their health.
This means that, in today’s increasingly online society, digital exclusion can also be counted as a factor in health inequality.
Digital exclusion occurs when individuals or communities can't use or don’t have easy access to digital tools like computers and the internet. This may be for a multitude of reasons, including:
- Not being able to afford it
- Living in remote areas with limited connectivity
- Lack of education or confidence
It’s closely linked to wider inequalities in society and is more likely to be faced by those on low incomes, people over 65 and disabled people. This can create huge challenges where the people who could most benefit from these services are unable to access them.
As the use of digital health technology increases, it’s crucial for organisations to ensure that those who are digitally excluded – for whatever reason – are not forgotten and left unable to access care.
How can shared care records improve health equity in the UK?
By using digital tools like Graphnet’s Population Health Management software, cohorts of those who fall within the Core20PLUS5 group are identified based on data from the integrated shared care record.
This narrows down the sometimes overwhelming information which is presented to already busy healthcare professionals and offers the opportunity to improve health equity by removing some of the practical and physical barriers faced by those who are vulnerable.
The data held within the integrated shared care record combines information from multiple disciplines, including hospitals, GP practices, community care and social care – piecing together the jigsaw for each patient.
Clinicians can then use powerful analytics to help segment populations, model changes and pinpoint the patients who are most likely to benefit from targeted interventions. This includes Core20PLUS communities, but also people with other long term conditions including high blood pressure, heart failure and diabetes.
For example, health teams can use this combined data to create a segment of people with asthma living in poor housing and target this cohort for intervention before winter arrives to ensure they have the support they need.
This holistic and data-driven approach paves the way for a future in which healthcare resources are distributed equitably and every individual receives the rightful and necessary care they deserve.