How Healthtech is Increasing Access to Healthcare
In 2021 the global health technology market topped $57.2 billion consisting of new wearables, genomic-driven precision medicine, and mobile diagnostics, driven in part by the pandemic. In spite of this, these products and benefits are primarily available for individuals who already have access to quality care and the privilege of choice. Healthcare technology has the power to reduce health inequities; however, it also has the potential to reinforce disparities that already exist in the United States healthcare system if innovators and investors fail to engage with underserved populations.
Sidebench has recognized the importance of health technology in improving healthcare access and health equity for vulnerable populations. Our patient-centered interviewing and design process allows us to emphasize users’ personalized needs and create tools that are accessible to the target populations. Recently, we have developed and deployed several projects with an emphasis on health equity including our work with the following:
- Greater Good Health is a company that capitalizes on the abilities of nurse practitioners to expand primary care access through digital means. This service presents a potential solution to expanding primary care access and filling unmet care gaps in rural areas and for individuals who have poor access to medical systems (e.g. transportation or disability).
- Peer Health Exchange is a non-profit organization that provides unmet health education to high school-aged young people. Our app, selfsea, serves to bridge a gap in an inclusive community for BIPOC and LGBTQ+ young people to learn and navigate their identities, mental health, relationships, and sexual health as necessitated by Trevor Project research.
- Diathrive is a diabetes management plans that prioritizes lasting behavioral change, providing an entirely personalized support system and high-quality, low-cost supplies. Sidebench is developing a mobile app that can track glucose management, sync with mobile health data, and provide customized medical suggestions. With our partnership, Diathrive plans to reduce long-term costs, increase patient treatment adherence, and address one of the most costly conditions to healthcare systems.
- Youth Yellow Pages, a mobile app, was developed in collaboration with Cedars-Sinai Teen Line which provides teen-to-teen support through its national suicide prevention hotline. This mobile app expands access to these life-saving tools for at-risk teens in vulnerable households and professionals that can connect with them.
According to a 2021 White House Executive Order on advancing support for underserved communities, “underserved communities’’ refers to populations or communities that have been “systematically denied a full opportunity to participate in aspects of economic, social, and civic life.” In the context of healthcare, these groups tend to be BIPOC patients, rural Americans, disabled individuals, LGBTQ+ individuals, and the elderly.
These underserved groups are the ones who need digital health resources the most. Both people of color and disabled individuals face higher rates of diabetes, stroke, heart disease, and cancer — conditions that require costly management. Health disparities for racial/ethnic minorities are estimated to cost more than $230 billion in medical expenditure and the indirect costs associated with illness exceed $1 trillion. Additionally, rural individuals are constrained by physician shortages, financially burdened hospitals, and high Emergency Department (ED) visitation. If technology-based solutions were developed for underserved individuals, then the costs and challenges associated with ED overuse, hard-to-reach settings, and chronic condition management could be alleviated.
Investors are quickly taking an interest in underserved populations in the digital health space, but many untapped opportunities still exist. Now is the time to focus on developing healthtech solutions to increase care for all patients, regardless of socioeconomic status, geographic location, gender, or disability, to name a few. Currently, Sidebench has ongoing projects working with organizations dedicated to promoting health equity. We are interested and passionate about designing and deploying tools that engage underserved communities to ensure that the most vulnerable are not continuously left behind.