Bridging the digital divide

La Trobe researcher calls for urgent action to address the digital divide in healthcare and improve digital health for all

Professor Emmanuel Kuntsche, Director of La Trobe’s Centre for Alcohol Policy Research, is calling for urgent action to address the digital divide in healthcare and improve digital health for all.

The digital divide is the gap between those who have access to digital technologies, such as the internet and computers, and those who do not.

“Social inequalities are a major contributor to the global burden of disease worldwide,” says Professor Kuntsche.

“The use of digital technology in health promotion and healthcare is seen as a promising tool for reducing these inequalities, however, research has indicated that there is a risk of digital technology reinforcing or even widening disparities – a digital health divide.”

“Most research on this digital health divide focuses on a small number of social inequality indicators and is conducted in Western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic (WEIRD) countries.”

“There is a need for systematic, international, and interdisciplinary contextualised research to identify the mechanisms underlying the uptake of, engagement with, and effectiveness of digital health tools by different social inequality indicators.”

In 2023, Professor Kuntsche co-organised a workshop in Kulmbach/Germany with multi-disciplinary researchers representing thirteen countries to discuss how current practices in research contribute to the digital health divide, including intervention development, testing, and implementation.

“We found that the digital health divide is fuelled by a range of intervention-induced inequalities, relating to the way digital interventions are currently tested and distributed, and research-induced inequalities, relating to the way digital health interventions are developed and evaluated,” says Professor Kuntsche.

“To address this, changes in political and research systems are urgently needed. We urge the research community to actively advocate for these system-level changes; this applies to all the scientific disciplines that are typically involved in digital health intervention development and testing.”

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