ZeroDivide Panel Discusses the Safety Net and Underserved Communities at Health 2.0
Each year the Health 2.0 conference provides the perfect opportunity to think big about the future of healthcare, and this year ZeroDivide was there to ensure underserved communities were a part of the conversation. All around were numerous big ideas and innovations aiming to disrupt the current healthcare system. Many of these startup-designed innovations aim to empower patients and caregivers with new data and tools for better decision-making, like wearable sensors that continuously measure and track biometric data, even now in the form of shirts. Other tools focused on bridging the divide between hospital stays and post-acute care, engaging patients and hospitals to avoid readmissions. The potential of these diverse technologies, especially when imagined working together in concert, is game-changing.
Video from the Health 2.0 Panel
Amid all the excitement, ZeroDivide had the honor and pleasure to host the only conference event focused exclusively on the needs and market potential of the medically underserved and the safety net environment. In our session, Digital Health and the Underserved, an all-star panel of experts spoke to a packed room of guests. The panel discussion was moderated by Dr. Urmimala Sarkar of University of California, San Francisco, and San Francisco General Hospital, an expert on patient safety and disparities in the use of health IT. Sitting on the panel were thought leaders who have experience developing, marketing, purchasing and investing in tools aimed at the safety net market.
Dr. Sarkar kicked off the event by providing some baseline context regarding the safety net, the digital divide and the needs of underserved patients. She encouraged digital health companies to bring underserved and diverse patient groups into the design process. “User-centered and even participatory design with underserved patients will lead to more universally appealing products for all patients.”
As Dr. Sarkar asked a pointed and specific question to each panelist, I was struck by their common optimism about the market potential for digital health within the safety net, despite their diverse backgrounds and perspectives. The message to the room was clear: Safety net providers and patients are hungry for eHealth solutions that increase access and improve the quality of their care, and they may have an even greater demand for these tools than other, better-served patients. However, they warned, entrepreneurs looking to serve this market must better understand the communities’ specific needs and challenges before designing their solutions.
Two leaders of safety net hospitals, Sajid Ahmed of the new Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital (MLK) in South Los Angeles and Dr. Michael Aratow of San Mateo Medical Center discussed their institutions’ respective appetites for eHealth innovation. Both hospitals have their own innovation centers with dedicated staff that provide entry points for partnerships with new companies and technology providers. They cautioned would-be innovators that partnering with large provider institutions takes time and patience, but that the rewards could be great.
Two representatives from the investor side of the safety net market also shared their insights. Julie Murchinson of Health Evolution Partners, who was representing larger mid-market investors, said companies like hers are interested in working within the safety net because the market potential is expanding as Medicaid expands. On the other side of the funding spectrum, California Healthcare Foundation’s Sanjay Shah discussed his organization’s strategic seed investments in young companies that improve access and quality of care for underserved Californians, including an early investment in DirectDerm.
Entrepreneur and founder of DirectDerm, David Wong, shared his company’s experience working with safety net providers as their first customers. DirectDerm chose for their pilot partners Federally Qualified Health Centers, which have a specific need for quick, inexpensive access to dermatology consults. DirectDerm’s innovative telehealth solution does just that. Wong’s business, which began as a pilot in the safety net, has now expanded to include all types of payers and providers.
To close the event, Dr. Sarkar reiterated the importance of accessible content—not only for safety net populations, but for everyone. “When educational content and eHealth tools are developed at lower levels of literacy, all patient populations like and use the content more,” she said. “If you develop universally-usable tools, everyone benefits.”