11/11/2010 11:33 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Technology Is the Key to Equity in Access to Quality Health Care

As our country continues to grow, resulting in a greater, more diverse population, we are faced with an increased need to ensure all Americans are provided with the greatest possible standards of living, regardless of age or socioeconomic status. This is particularly true for the healthcare industry where, even in the healthiest of communities, age-old disparities persist and exact an extreme toll on the quality of life and economic resources. This week, Philadelphia will host the Fourth Annual National Conference on Health Disparities in an effort to correct this issue. Panelists and participants will discuss solutions, review "programs that work," and recommend policies to strengthen and enhance the current "medical model" of health care through diverse, multi-disciplinary partnerships and perspectives.

Minority populations suffer from a number of chronic diseases at a disproportionate rate and experience health disparities that have to be addressed in innovative ways. I believe that in order to adapt to this and ensure equity in access to quality care as our healthcare system evolves, we need to practice medicine differently using technology and other resources. We must increase our capability to care for the increased needs of all communities, through collaborations, partnerships, utilization of technology and innovation. The bottom line is simple: digital technology is the key to adapting so that we can provide the best possible care to all Americans. However, we need to expand broadband access to everyone and keep it affordable to ensure a seamless system that really works. And we need to work to ensure that everyone understands the benefits that broadband can offer for our health and for our lives in general.

Advanced technologies in our hospitals, doctor's offices, pharmacies and homes will improve the well-being of minority Americans, and Americans in general, by shortening hospital stays, decreasing re-admissions and providing electronic prescriptions, among other things. Telehealth, mhealth and telemedicine applications will make it easier for minority families to manage their health and medical information. They will offer increased access to quality care through innovations such as remote health monitoring for chronic disease management and provide a gateway to improved health outcomes. New bilingual applications will allow for easy access to health information, which promotes communication with doctors and helps prevent costly medical errors. Digital technologies in the medical field provide any number of life improving applications that will enable medical professionals to work better and smarter.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has estimated that it will cost $350 billion in upgrades and expansion to our broadband infrastructure in order to extend broadband access to all Americans -- an expansion that is necessary if we are to build out a ubiquitous Internet system that will enable us to make the type of changes that our healthcare system, and this country as a whole, desperately needs right now. The principles laid out in the FCC's National Broadband Plan lay the necessary framework for the FCC to achieve this under existing authority -- and if we are to digitize our healthcare system to offer Americans these valuable benefits, this is something we must remain committed to regardless of the political changes in Washington.

With boundless possibilities, broadband serves as a pipeline of hope to healthier communities, and universal connectivity will ensure that the pipeline is both seamless and solid. Of course, truly connecting is the key realizing the benefits of this great technology -- and this means that not only do we need to have broadband access in our hospitals, doctors' offices, pharmacies, homes, schools, libraries and community centers, but we also need to have the technical skills required to become users. By 'we,' I mean everyone -- as only full digital inclusion can ensure greater equity in access to quality medical care.

A healthy America is increasingly a connected America and we cannot afford to let some fall through the cracks when there is so much at stake. We need to make sure that all of our citizens have access to the tools necessary to improve their health and well-being, as well as the skills to use them.

Julius H. Hollis is the CEO of the Alliance for Digital Equality, a non-profit organization that receives funding from a wide array of organizations including those from the telecommunications, energy and entertainment sectors.