The Digital Divide can Kill —Can we Bridge it?

Jag Singh
6 min readDec 8, 2020

Meet Ashley; she is a 43-year-old woman with heart disease living in Brookline (an upscale suburban neighborhood of Boston). Over the last 6 months, Ashley has been able to see all of her doctors (including myself) through virtual video visits. Throughout the pandemic, she has not had to step foot into the hospital environment, yet was still provided with all of the necessary resources to manage her condition

Now, I’d like to introduce you to Silvia, a 37-year-old mother of two also suffering from the same heart disease as Ashley. Silvia lives with her family in Chelsea, a town that is just as far away from our hospital as Brookline is, but with markedly different demographics. Unlike Ashley, Silvia has not had the comfort and assurance of virtual visits. Due to her unreliable internet connectivity, Silvia has had to resort to telephone conversations (which are often insufficient) and sometimes even show up in person, despite her concerns of the pandemic.

By way of this pandemic, we have more willingly accepted and implemented the world of virtual healthcare. For clinicians, telemedicine overnight became the best thing since sliced bread. In the midst of the contagion, physicians were able to continue to provide care to their patients in spite of the circumstances keeping us all locked at home. Patients had the opportunity to maintain their necessary care while still limiting their risk of exposure.

But not all patients actually have that privilege. Patients like Silvia had to continuously make trade-offs: does she take care of her chronic condition or does she preferentially avoid the risk of infecting herself and her family with COVID?

The reality is that much of our population faces the same dilemma as Silvia; in fact, approximately half of the US population has slow or unreliable internet connection. In the cardiology practice that I work at, over half the patients were unable to have video visits and had to resort to either telephone calls or in-person visits. Research shows that this proportion of patients is predominantly minority groups as a consequence of their increased likelihood to be either uninsured or covered by public insurance options such as Medicaid. This contributes to a 3-fold less likelihood of being able to connect with their doctor via virtual…

Jag Singh

Physician, Scientist & Professor at Harvard. Passionate about social issues, leadership, digital health & medical innovations. @JagSinghMD