By: Claire McGee, Associate
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated many underlying issues in our healthcare systems along with long-standing inequities in how care is provided and received. Because of a complex web of factors – including living conditions, access to transportation, education level, and chronic health issues – Black, Latinx, and Native people were more likely to contract, be hospitalized, and die from COVID-19. Moreover, Black and Latinx populations were more likely to delay or avoid emergency and primary medical care treatment as a result of the pandemic. COVID-19 exacerbated an already significant health equity divide globally. Because of inequities in access to technology (quality of the internet, digital health literacy, access to mobile devices, etc.), not everyone stands to fully benefit from emerging digital health technologies.
Digital health equity can be defined as, “…an equal opportunity for individuals to benefit from the knowledge and practices related to the development and use of digital technologies to improve health.” Healthbox’s mission to support emerging digital health technologies goes hand in hand with our mission to support health equity. As the global population grows, new products come to market, and digital health ecosystems expand, it is paramount to include and empower all communities and founders in the development, adoption, and investment in new technologies. This means supporting, engaging, and investing our time into BIPOC + women led companies that have missions to increase access to care and decrease inequities.
As described in our “Root Causes of Health” report, we have seen time and time again that the most effective healthcare interventions arise out of partnerships that address the effects of root causes upstream, or at the start of the problem, rather than downstream or on a case-by-case basis. This is why it is especially important to look critically at the investment landscape when thinking about health equity. How can we expect the best ideas and solutions to come to market when many remain unacknowledged?
Just 1.2% of the record $137 billion invested in US startups in the first half of 2021 went to Black entrepreneurs, with Black and Latina women making up less than 1% of venture capital funding combined. Blue Cross Blue Shield Massachusetts (BCBS MA) recognized this inequity in the investing and healthcare space and decided to take action. Committed to addressing health inequity from many angles, they initiated the Health Equity Business Accelerator, an accelerator investing in and supporting companies led by people of color. We would like to highlight the companies here, each with diverse founders, technologies, and missions.
BloomerTech: Women face a 20% increased risk of developing heart failure or dying within five years after their first severe heart attack compared with men, and the current AI algorithms seeking to predict and prevent cardiac events are not data-inclusive. This is why Alicia Chong Rodriguez founded BloomerTech. BloomerTech embeds patented sensors into the underwire of the everyday bra to continuously monitor women’s heart health. Through the use of the Bloomer Bra “Lily” in both clinical trials and the provider market, they are developing female-specific digital biomarkers and predictive algorithms that can then be used to detect arrhythmias, predict cardiac events, and track drug metabolism.
MedHaul: Transportation issues are some of the most common barriers to accessing health care. These barriers are costly, on both the patient and provider side, leading to missed appointments and delayed medical treatment. Existing transportation companies are inclusive of all riders’ needs. Responding to these issues, Erica Plybeah founded MedHaul, a cloud-based management platform for non-emergency medical transportation. This platform connects providers and local transportation companies to coordinate specialized, non-emergency transportation for patients tailored to disability and therapeutic use case.
Quality Interactions: Cultural competency is one of the most important topics in health equity. Without culturally competent care, there is undue patient suffering and excess costs for healthcare institutions, including poor patient experience and negative health outcomes. With research-based cultural competency training, Quality Interactions is equipping healthcare professionals with the skills and insights to provide equitable care to all. Led by COO Ashley Oguadimma, QI’s portfolio of 25+ eLearning courses prepare health care professionals to anticipate and navigate common cross-cultural issues that contribute to health care disparities. Their products are based on the research of the three co-founders and utilize patient cases that apply concepts to on-the-job scenarios.
SoHookd: Health plans and employers play a critical role in enabling wellness and preventing burnout in our workforce. And accessing wellness solutions should be easy. This thought is what led BJ Wiley Williams to found SoHookd, a one-stop marketplace that aggregates leading brands’ wellness offerings. Employers and payers purchase credit to the marketplace for employees and members to promote wellness and eliminate burnout.
TQIntelligence: Adverse Childhood Experiences lead to mental health issues in children that are often left untreated into adulthood. Despite increasing discussions surrounding mental health, socioeconomic disadvantage, ethnic or racial minority status, and immigrant status greatly impact access to early diagnoses and care. TQIntelligence’s founder, Dr. Yared Alemu hopes that his solution will make a difference in the communities that need it most. TQIntelligence uses a 60-second voice sample AI to diagnose the severity of anxiety and depression in pediatric patients. By aiding in the early diagnosis of mental health issues in adolescents, the technology helps to avoid the cost of unnecessary hospitalization in the short term and reduces long term diagnostic and treatment cost.
Each of these companies showcases the power and untapped potential of BIPOC founders in the digital health space. The time for action and investment to shift the health equity landscape is now. Every organization, advisory firm, and company has a responsibility to empower and uplift people and solutions that are creating a more equitable and accessible digital health ecosystem. We hope to see these founders and other BIPOC-founded and led companies thrive and grow in the coming years.