The Digital Yellow Brick Road to Equitable Health and Wellness

The Digital Yellow Brick Road to Equitable Health and Wellness

Posted on September 14, 2022 by Lauren Turner, consultant with The Patterson Foundation
Editor's Note: As part of Digital Access for All's Telehealth and Teletherapy Project, the team created a survey to gather local data on access to telehealth and teletherapy. Help us by completing the survey below and share them widely with your family, friends, and constituents.


We've all (I hope!) seen the classic movie, The Wizard of Oz. Oz is this magical place where Dorothy thinks she will find everything in life to be easier – a utopia. Little does Dorothy know she will encounter many obstacles on this path, like the Wicked Witch of the West and her crew of flying monkeys. I make this yellow brick road reference as it is analogous to the road many have to journey to get equitable access to healthcare and mental healthcare. With the advent of digital technology, the gaps in access to digital health and wellness services have only widened. There are definitely more "flying monkeys" prohibiting many members of our community and society from getting the proper care they need digitally through telehealth and teletherapy.

In April 2022, the Digital Access for All (DA4A) team identified a need for a closer look at this widespread issue of inequitable digital access. Access to care options has expanded due to COVID-19 through telehealth; however, it was determined that many families did not have the devices and skills needed to make this opportunity a viable option. The DA4A initiative has an opportunity to help create a plan to provide resources and educate our community in all four counties about free or affordable access to telehealth and teletherapy services. By doing so, the project can potentially make an immediate impact on the availability of telehealth and teletherapy services to asset-limited families, older adults, children, educators, first responders, and others. We're here to get rid of those "flying monkeys."

To continue, let's define some terms and talk about data. What are telehealth and teletherapy? The Health Resources and Services Administration defines telehealth (including mental healthcare) as "the use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support long-distance clinical health care, patient and professional health-related education, public health, and health administration." In 2021, the American Medical Association conducted a widespread survey on the state of telehealth in our country.

Did you know that 85% of physicians who responded were still actively using digital methods to administer care, and 80% of patients who responded felt telehealth and teletherapy services gave them better access to care?

All seemingly great statistics, right? Well, there's a hidden "flying monkey" in all this. Around 20% of patient respondents disagreed or strongly disagreed that using digital means for telehealth and teletherapy decreased their costs. What about those 20%? How can we help them? What resources can we provide for them? Keep in mind this percentage is probably much higher outside of this particular survey.

As an individual who relies on telehealth and teletherapy services, I understand its importance tenfold. Therefore I cannot imagine how difficult the "yellow brick road" to the "utopia" of ease and affordability of healthcare and wellness must be for those who do not have the means or one or more of the three essential elements to use these services. Due to closed doctor's offices, quarantine, etc., it is no longer an option to use these digital health services as it was during COVID-19; instead, it's essential for those who need it digitally and affordably. In a webinar hosted by the CDC, Dr. Vento with Intermountain Healthcare said it best,

"…if I could emphasize any points, I would say a couple of things going forward. One, really telehealth, [including teletherapy] I think this pandemic should have cemented in so many people's minds that it is not just an individual clinical tool for individual patients, but it is a form of public health…"

DA4A's mission with this new telehealth and teletherapy exploration is to educate, advocate, and provide resources to the community about the importance, availability, and affordability of these services. As Dr. Vento mentioned, this is an issue of public health. We are striving forward with this extensive project with the determination of Dorothy to overcome all the flying monkeys as we lead our community down the yellow brick road to equitable digital healthcare access … "Someplace where there isn't any trouble. Do you suppose there is such a place, Toto? There must be." – Dorothy, "Wizard of Oz."

As part of DA4A's research for this project, the team designed a survey to gather local data regarding equitable digital access to telehealth and teletherapy. The survey is available in both English and Spanish. Please help us by filling out the survey and sharing them with your family, friends, and constituents.

Telehealth Survey in English
Encuesta Sobre la Telesalud y la Teleterapia (Telehealth Survey en Espanol )

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