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Digital equity in health services

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An equitable approach to digital health services means assessing the inequities across populations and bringing communities into the development of digital services. When digital health services are designed so that the least privileged groups in society are able to benefit, the health of the whole population improves.

This practice brief from NCCDH and Nova Scotia Health explores concepts of digital equity and the digital divide, and how they apply to taking an equitable approach to developing digital health services.

Core dimensions of digital equity

A 2021 situational assessment by the Mental Health and Addictions program of Nova Scotia Health was guided by the identification of five core dimensions of digital equity:

  • Access
  • Affordability
  • Digital literacy
  • Relevance
  • Safety and security

Findings from academic and grey literature as well as from the situational assessment are reviewed according to each of these themes. A strategy for each theme is also offered as an innovative idea for taking a digital equity approach.


Taking a digital equity approach to health services

Equitable access to digital health services includes addressing particular needs of people who experience inequities.

Affordability means that reducing the cost-barriers experienced specifically by low socioeconomic communities are priority in the design of digital health services.

Addressing digital literacy involves supporting skills, knowledge, capacity and confidence for people who are less able to effectively use digital health services.

Relevance encompasses culturally safe and appropriate content, meaningful involvement of community members in the development and design of digital strategies, and contextual application of digital health services.

Improving the safety and security of digital health services requires addressing issues of mistrust by equity-deserving communities who have had negative experiences with the health system.


Implications for public health

Considerations for each dimension of digital equity are suggested to support an approach that will decrease, rather than increase, the digital divide. The report also offers additional resources to support taking an equitable approach to digital health services , and readers are encouraged to consult the extensive reference list for further literature evidence and tools.   


An infographic and poster to accompany this practice brief are also available.

Infographic Poster


Use this resource to:

  • facilitate discussion with community organizations about the digital health service needs of people who live with inequities and how to meaningfully build relationships between health service providers and communities;
  • initiate planning with cross-sector partners about aligning resources and bridging relationships so that more of people who live with inequities can benefit from digital health services in innovative ways; and
  • develop a tool based on the core dimensions of digital equity to support addressing the needs of equity-deserving communities from the initial stages of planning and development of digital health services.


Related Resources:

Digital health equity and COVID-19: The innovation curve cannot reinforce the social gradient of health (2020)

Public health use of digital technology to advance health equity (2017)

BCCDC COVID-19 language guide: Guidelines for inclusive language for written and digital content (2020)


National Collaborating Centre for Determinants of Health and Nova Scotia Health Authority. (2022). Digital equity in health services: Practice brief. Antigonish (NS): NCCDH, St. Francis Xavier University; Halifax [NS]: NSH, Mental Health and Addictions Program.

Tags: Access to health services, Community engagement, Health literacy, Partnership, National Collaborating Centre for Determinants of Health, Public Health Organization, Infographic, Report / Document