Remote health care services are prevalent, beneficial and convenient in today’s health care system— but their effectiveness is only as strong as their accessibility to patients.
Home to California’s agricultural backbone, the Central Valley faces some of the worst environmental quality conditions and highest health professional shortages in the state. Furthermore, the region’s largely Latinx/Latine population must first overcome language barriers, legal and financial obstacles, and limited internet access before seeking out care, leading to entrenched inequities in health outcomes and poor knowledge of remote care options.
In 2021, CITRIS researchers launched Accountability, Coordination, and Telehealth in the Valley to Achieve Transformation and Equity (ACTIVATE), a public-private initiative aimed at bridging technology gaps in California’s rural communities.
Initially striving to combat inequalities exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, research partners from CITRIS Health, MITRE, UC Davis and UC Merced formed ACTIVATE in partnership with Livingston Community Health to bring telehealth to the underserved residents of Merced County. The pilot project provided a combination of technology, health education and digital literacy training to patients, recognizing that both access to and understanding of tools is key to leveraging remote health care to improve patient outcomes.
The program now services four community health centers (CHCs) across the Central Valley, finding success in remote health monitoring. At the Livingston health center, a group of about 250 patients managed their diabetes with the support of ACTIVATE. They each received a tablet device to upload their health data and a glucometer to check blood sugar with in-person instructions in Spanish, supplemented with virtual health coaching sessions twice a month. By the end of the six-month participation period, most of the patients had their diabetes under control with lower blood pressure levels, according to Katherine Kim, one of ACTIVATE’s leaders.
One patient from the Livingston center, Rosa Jaime Alcantar, reported the technology’s ease of use and effectiveness in helping her improve her lifestyle. “Using the technology was convenient,” she said. “It was easier to send the information to the doctor right away, without having to go to the clinic.”