Alphabet's Sidewalk Labs launches new startup focused on urban health

By Laura Lovett
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Google’s Sidewalk, a subsidiary of Alphabet, is diving into community health after launching Cityblock, a startup focused on reinventing urban health, back in October. Cityblock aims to address the health disparity in lower socio-economic urban communities by providing preventive medicine and access to resources. 

“There’s a problem in our cities: whole neighborhoods are sick," Iyah Romm, cofounder and CEO of Cityblock, wrote in a Medium post announcing the launch. "Zip codes are better predictors of health outcomes than biology. And despite the efforts of many, we have failed to build sustainable, scalable systems that provide high-quality, cost-effective care for populations with complex health needs.”

The startup is part of Sidewalk’s larger goal to transform urban life, which includes initiatives for safer mobility, affordable real estate and sustainability.

Cityblock has a multi-pronged approach to addressing the issue of health inequality. 

As Tincture's Naveen Rao noted in a recent feature on Sidewalk Labs, the startup has a membership model for Medicaid patients, which contracts with health plans and outpatient clinics. Its members will have access to both online and in-person health benefits. 

The startup said it intends to build a customized technology platform that will enhance relationships between members and care teams. It will also apply “leading-edge care” models that integrate primary care, behavioral health, and social services. 

The company will launch a custom-built care facilitation platform called Common. It will help enable them to codify workflow, enhance communication, said the company. Rao reports that the platform will have a two-way channel with clinician and patient apps, telehealth and chat features, and a record of care with action plans. 

The second component to the program is an in-person approach. The startup plans on also having Neighborhood Health Hubs, which will be a physical meeting space which will combine the health and community. 

“Where possible, our Hubs will be built within existing, trusted spaces operated by our partners,” Romm wrote in the Medium post. “Our workforce will be hired from the communities we serve, adding jobs and contributing to the economic well-being of the community as a whole. This approach will promote a truly collaborative, team-based environment.”

Treatment for mental health will be part of the care system, both in person and with the new technology.  Putting behavioral health first, the company said it plans on breaking down the silos in treating and addressing the issue.

The first Neighborhood Health Hub is expected to open in New York City in 2018, but the company said there will be more to come in the future. Currently the company is soliciting ideas about better ways to address healthcare for this demographic. 

On December 4, Rock Health named Cityblock as the best new startup in digital health this year. 

“We’re not naive to the complexity ahead,” Romm wrote in the Medium post. “We know this will be a long journey. We recognize that chronic health disparities are rooted in a deeply entrenched set of economic and social realities that span generations.”