Zoom: It’s now a verb. This pandemic has led to people using the digital space to stay connected, learn, and interact. We’ve had these capabilities for years, but its true essence did not come to light until a deadly virus shut the world down. In medicine, many visits turned to telehealth. Physicians skeptical of telemedicine were now forced to use this platform to continue health care delivery. As a residency program director, my work life turned into Zoom life – utilizing this platform to engage with my residents during didactics, case conferences, journal clubs, evaluation meetings, and check-ins that now need to be scheduled instead of the organic stop by open door meetings.
While we found it exhausting to stare at a screen and annoyed when technology failed us, it provided us a way to move forward. Through this, I could not help but think of those who were not privileged to utilize Zoom or the internet as freely as many of us do. The children left without in-person school and accountability. The elderly are left alone in their homes with no one to share stories. People who struggle with depression and disabilities and worsening social interactions. Such is a tale of the good and bad.
While those who had means struggled in their own way, those who have usually been disproportionately affected were again disproportionately affected getting left behind in this ever fast-moving world. As I fielded calls from workers with symptoms of COVID-19 to triage their ability to return to work, I realized at that moment is a time I need to take advantage of. Many of them do not have readily available internet/computer access and thus limited access to knowledge of COVID-19. The beginning days of the pandemic were confusing to many of us – with new information developing daily. It is difficult for physicians to keep up with, more difficult for the public, however incredibly difficult for those without easy access to information. This is further complicated with misinformation that lies within the recess of the digital space so that even those who have easy access also have easy access to information that can hurt them.
What does this have to do with physicians and health care? One way to address health care disparities is we need to address technology disparities. Getting funding for schools in underserved areas to provide computers for students. Providing reliable internet access in these areas at a subsidized cost. Reaching out to communities of color via the old-fashioned way – mailers, places of worship, townhalls, and worksites.
When we Zoom out and see how we rose out of the pandemic with our technology, we need to look around at those who are not with us and bridge those gaps to ensure equity. And as we Zoom out to the future and look back at the long-term ramifications of this pandemic, it will not just be a reflection on the immediate health effects that plagued the world. We will have time to grasp the effects of lack of technology for many in this developed nation and remark at the advancement and reliability of technology that will have reformed how we practice medicine and function in our day-to-day life. Let us start to Zoom out now to proactively counteract the gaps that are inevitably getting worse.
Alya Khan is an occupational medicine physician.
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