Big tech, digital health coalition forms to undercut COVID-19 healthcare disparities

Formed under the banners of the Consumer Technology Association and the Connected Health Initiative, the coalition's membership includes big names like Google, Boston Children's Hospital, Microsoft, ResMed and others.
By Dave Muoio
02:41 pm
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The Consumer Technology Association and the Connected Health Initiative announced this morning a new multi-sector initiative of private tech companies, healthcare providers and representatives of public agencies that aims to outline technology's role in addressing health disparities exacerbated by COVID-19.

To this end, the effort's first major project will consist of a white paper containing policy and operational recommendations to help best deploy novel health technologies, the industry groups wrote in their announcement. Examples of the types of tools being explored include wearables, remote monitoring, clinical decision support, telehealth and artificial intelligence.

The Health Equity and Access Leadership (HEAL) Coalition counts 17 organizations within its membership.

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Hailing from the tech sector are Google, Microsoft, Best Buy Health, AT&T, Intel and HP. Provider representatives include Boston Children's Hospital, Cambria Health, University of Mississippi Medical Center, University of Virginia Center for Telehealth and MLEM. The coalition's digital and mobile health faction is staffed by Omron Healthcare, ResMed, Validic, Grapevine Health and Rimidi.

In addition, the group enjoys the support of a small handful of "allied organizations," including Brookings, Kapor Center and Plum Valley Ventures. It will also be working with "non-participatory observers from key government agencies including the FCC," according to the announcement.

Sharing the cochair role for the new initiative will be Dr. Lucienne Ide, founder and chief health innovator of chronic-condition management platform Rimidi, and Dr. Lisa Fitzpatrick, founder and CEO of health literacy startup Grapevine Health, and also former chief medical officer for D.C. Medicaid.

“Access to health technology, trust and health literacy are all essential for improving health outcomes in underserved communities,” Fitzpatrick said in a statement. “CTA and CHI have convened a strong group of players to assess this important issue. I’m encouraged that government stakeholders will observe our process to better understand the policies needed and role technology can play in addressing health inequities.”

WHY IT MATTERS

COVID-19 has introduced health burdens across the board, but the greatest impact is being felt among minorities and others with reduced access to services such as mental healthcare. Data published in August by the CDC showed hospitalization rates roughly five times higher among several nonwhite racial and ethnic groups. Rates of COVID-19 deaths among Black or African American non-Hispanic persons were more than twice that of white non-Hispanic persons.

Implemented appropriately, new technologies can mitigate these shortcomings across a range of geographies and demographics, the organizations said. While these approaches would ostensibly be outlined in the upcoming white paper, the coalition gave the examples of AI-based treatment decisions and social media outreach among low-income pregnant women as immediate examples of this type of work.

“The rise of digital health technology gives us a unique opportunity to help advance health equity, improve access to care, increase health care quality and lower costs,” Rene Quashie, VP of digital health for the CTA, said in a statement. “Disparities in health have long been an issue in the U.S., and the COVID-19 pandemic has only exposed those gaps. With greater use and adoption of technology, we can help reduce inefficiencies and provide more personalized care for marginalized patients and consumers.”

THE LARGER TREND

The CTA's latest initiative comes roughly a month after it formed another alliance of big tech and digital health names, one focused on the standardization of digital therapeutics. Similar to the HEAL Coalition, that effort's members highlighted COVID-19 as bringing new urgency to the issue.

Meanwhile, several other startups and organizations have redoubled their efforts to address social determinants of health issues that are being exasperated throughout the course of the pandemic.

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