J Med Internet Res. 2021 Mar 10. doi: 10.2196/23914. Online ahead of print.
Vulnerable populations have been identified as having higher infection rates and poorer COVID-19 related outcomes , likely due to their inability to readily access primary care, follow public health directives and adhere to self-isolation guidelines. As a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many health care services have adopted new digital solutions, relying on phone and internet connectivity. Yet, persons who are digitally inaccessible, such as those struggling with poverty or homelessness, are often unable to utilize these services. In response to this newly highlighted social disparity known as “digital health inequity”, emergency physicians at the University Health Network, Toronto, initiated a program called “PHONE-CONNECT”. This novel approach attempts to improve patients’ access to health care, information and social services, as well as improve their ability to adhere to public health directives (social isolation and contact tracing). While similar programs addressing the same emerging issues have been recently described in the media, this is the first time phones are provided as a health care intervention in an emergency department. This innovative ED point-of-care intervention may have a significant impact on improving the health outcomes for vulnerable people during the COVID-19 pandemic, and even beyond it.