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Can Telemedicine Break Cycles of Poverty in the Bay Area?

While poverty does not cause disease, it increases the risk factors that can lead to disease. 

Even within the overall affluent San Francisco Bay Area, there are deep pockets of poverty, which correlate strongly with education levels. When a child is born into a family that cannot afford adequate health care, the child is more likely to get sick and miss more days of school; children who frequently miss school are likely to struggle even to graduate high school, which may hamper their future career goals.

People with high incomes can afford high standards of health care, diet, sanitation, and living and working conditions. Those with lower incomes are likely to struggle to maintain even adequate conditions for health, and are thus at higher risk for future health problems. Struggling to meet one’s basic needs for survival increases stress, which is scientifically proven to be damaging to the immune system. Individuals with compromised immune systems are more likely to fall ill, and if they cannot afford prompt and adequate care, they are more likely to suffer in the long term, which will compromise their ability to attend work or school and can even shorten their lives.

The housing crisis in the Bay is not merely economic in nature — it is a major public health crisis.

Many residents who are attracted to the natural beauty and economic opportunities in the Bay Area are forced to either move away or settle for sub-optimal living conditions. Living in rural areas may not be the solution, because rural residents may have to travel a long distance in order to access pharmacies. Finally, low-income patients who are prescribed expensive drugs may find themselves at a crossroads between buying food and shelter versus buying their medicine.

One major factor that leads to cycles of poverty in the Bay Area is air pollution. Air pollution tends to be significantly higher in low-income neighborhoods relative to affluent ones, and causes respiratory and cardiovascular problems for residents who breathe the toxic particulates. Ozone from industrial pollution and motor vehicles is generally the most prominent air pollutant in the Bay, and prolonged exposure to unhealthy levels of ground-level ozone is linked to the development childhood asthma. Low-income residents are less likely to have access to adequate preventative medicine, air purifiers, and sanitary living situations. 

Telemedicine may help patients save up to 50% on doctors' visits.

Telemedicine is on the rise in the Bay Area, and the reduced overhead costs may enable patients to save on both doctors’ visits and prescription refills. Telemedicine visits cost an average of $79, while in-person visits to primary care doctors average nearly twice this cost. Although digital health technologies often tend to focus on wealthier consumers, there is a growing push to use digital health technologies to help underserved populations. One healthcare startup called SAMI-Aid offers an expanding portfolio of digital health services, foremost of which is telemedicine. For just a fraction of the cost of an in-person primary or urgent care visit, you can speak with a nurse or doctor, and get help within minutes rather than waiting days or weeks for an appointment.

There are also a plethora of Patient Assistance Programs available to help the needy gain assistance with prescription drugs. These programs may be offered through pharmaceutical companies, government programs, and non-profit organizations. Some of these programs even specialize in providing prescription assistance to senior citizens, non-native English speakers, or other demographic groups; others exclusively help patients who require specific prescriptions to treat specific diseases, such as cystic fibrosis. All California residents can benefit from the free statewide California Rx Card program which offers discounts of up to 75% on prescription medications and is accepted at all CVS and many other pharmacies in California. SAMI-Aid can help connect you to these programs and can even assist you with filling out the applications.

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