Caring Digitally: An Analysis of Digital Technology for Long-term Care

Simmerman, Abigail, Media, Culture, and Technology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Ali, Christopher, University of Virginia

Twelve million Americans are currently receiving long-term care, and seven of ten of us will someday require these services. Digital access – my term for broadband, information/communication technologies, and digital literacy – has been examined in medical literature as a benefit to care. With the onset of the pandemic, these digital solutions became more important than ever. I conducted expert interviews with administrative staff in long-term care nonprofits, seeking to ascertain the benefits of digital access, the barriers to access, and the policy interventions necessary to ensure it. I used the lens of critical political economy of communication to answer these questions. I found three major benefits to digital access: (1) practical and care needs, (2) social use and community building, and (3) entertainment use. Despite the benefits of access, nonprofit long-term care communities face major barriers. The barriers are (1) prioritization of other care, (2) nonprofit resource distribution, and (3) attempts to eliminate overhead spending. To remedy these barriers I describe three policy interventions. We must first work to correct the market failure of rural broadband by eliminating municipal roadblock laws and funding rural infrastructure. To correct overhead elimination, there must be a state-level overhead spending standard for contracts with nonprofits. And because nonprofit long-term care is dependent on Medicaid/care, digital access spending must be made eligible for reimbursement. Digital access has proven to be an important tool for long-term care, and we must work to eliminate these barriers by establishing these policies.

MA (Master of Arts)
Digital access, long-term care, Medicaid, broadband, digital divide, disability, political economy
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